Livio Maitan, 1923-2004: a critical assessment

Part 3: A “Trotskyist” in Rifondazione Comunista

By Peter Schwarz
6 November 2004

This is the third and final part of a series on the political career of Livio Maitan, who died in Rome in September at the age of 81. With Ernest Mandel, Maitan was one of the best-known representatives of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, an international revisionist tendency. The first part of this series was posted November 4 and the second part on November 5.

This is not the place to recap in detail the history of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC). Instead, I will limit myself to the role of Maitan, who sat on the party’s executive committee for a period of 10 years, was a close confidante and advisor to its chairman Fausto Bertinotti and propagated grotesque illusions over the character and role of the organisation.

In Maitan’s hymns of praise to Rifondazione, published in the press of the United Secretariat, one finds all of the characteristic Pabloite clichés that he had employed earlier in his glorification of Italian Stalinism, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. One searches in vain for a sober analysis of the party’s programme and its role in Italian political life. Instead, Maitan blusters over “contradictions,” “objective dynamics” and the “relations of forces.”

Typical is a balance sheet of the work in the ranks of Rifondazione, made this year by Flavia D’Angeli, a member of Maitan’s tendency: “Throughout the history of the PRC, the political current around Bandiera Rossa has tried to create the conditions for a real insertion of its militants in the activity of the party, seeking to stimulate class initiative and social implantation. Rifondazione appeared to us as the unique occasion and instrument by which we could move towards the recomposition of a new revolutionary political subject, through a complex process involving clashes, ruptures, experiments, openings and realignments.

“We did not envisage a linear evolution towards a finished anti-capitalist force, but a contradictory process. Thus, during a whole phase, we had tried to build a broad and plural left within the party, with some successes at given times, but without these initiatives managing to become consolidated and offer a homogeneous strategic orientation...

“We invested our forces in the leading group, in a working relationship with the comrades of the majority, conscious that this was the scenario most favourable for the construction of a revolutionary party, but conscious also that advance was by no means ensured and that contradictions persisted.” (16)

Concealed behind all the prattling about “complex and contradictory processes” is the plain fact that, for a period of 13 years, Maitan’s group has supported a political party that served as a left-wing cover for the bourgeois order, a party that has defended bourgeois society during every serious crisis, and in all probability will be directly involved in the next Italian government—in the event of an electoral defeat for the right-wing coalition of Silvio Berlusconi. Any serious examination of the role played by Rifondazione reveals that it is neither a “tool” for the “construction of a revolutionary party,” nor an “anti-capitalist force,” but rather an obstacle to the development of an independent socialist orientation by the working class.

The founding of Rifondazione goes back to the year 1991. At that time, the Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano—PCI) decided to dispense with its traditional name, its party symbol and everything that formally recalled its communist past and declare its allegiance to social democracy. Two events had precipitated this change in course. The first was the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which finally put an end to the traditional links between the PCI and Moscow. The second was the implosion of Italy’s traditional ruling parties, the Christian Democrats and the Socialists, in the course of a huge corruption scandal. By ditching its symbolic associations with communism, the renamed Democratic Party of the Left (PDS) was preparing itself to take responsibility in the government in order to rescue a bourgeois system that had been shaken to its roots.

Inside the PCI, there was a wing that saw this shift as going too far to the right. It feared such a move would leave behind a dangerous vacuum on the left. In this way, Rifondazione Comunista—the “communist refoundation”—came into being. The new formation included Stalinist hardliners under Armando Cossuta, who had made a name for themselves as faithful adherents to Moscow in the struggle against Berlinguer’s “euro-communism.” The new organization also opened itself up, however, to numerous radical groups that had in part conducted a vigorous agitation against the PCI in the 1970s.

Initially, the expectations of the PDS did not materialise. In elections held in 1994, it was Berlusconi’s Forza Italia that emerged victorious and not the PDS. Berlusconi was able to secure a majority because, for the first time in postwar Italian history, he brought neo-fascists into his governing coalition. However, his right-wing government was able to hold on to power only for a few months before its collapsed in the wake of mass demonstrations against its economic and welfare policies.

It was at this stage that Rifondazione demonstrated its statesmanship for the first time. For over a year, it secured a parliamentary majority for the transitional government headed by Lamberto Dini, a minister under Berlusconi and former head of country’s central bank. In the following two years, it supported the centre-left government of Romano Prodi, without directly participating in the government. In this way, Rifondazione guaranteed the parliamentary majority necessary to implement drastic welfare and social cuts, consolidate the budget and to qualify Italy for participation in the joint European currency—the euro.

In 1998, Rifondazione withdrew its support for Prodi, unleashing a government crisis that ended paradoxically with the PCI’s successors heading a government for the first time. PDS leader Massimo d’Alema secured a new majority by opening up the centre-left coalition to the right. Rifondazione now no longer participated in the government and was able to take a more oppositional stance. As a result, the veteran Stalinists around Armando Cossuta quit the party and founded their own formation—Comunisti Italiani—which continued to support the government.

It goes without saying that Maitan and his supporters celebrated the manoeuvre undertaken by Rifondazione as a shift to the left that justified their own political line. “Fausto Bertinotti should be given credit for understanding that the party risked finding itself in a dead end, foundering, indeed suffering an irreversible erosion,” Maitan declared. He maintained that Bertinotti had “decided to open a campaign against Stalinism and at the same time stimulate a strategic reflection on the basis of an up-to-date analysis of the fundamental traits and the dynamic of capitalism in an epoch of globalisation.” (7)

In reality, the tactical shift of 1998 had nothing in common with a fundamentally new orientation. The majority around Bertinotti had simply understood that that they were in danger of going down with the government as a whole should they continue to slavishly support policies that were so unpopular. This would have stripped Rifondazione of its most important function: diverting the growing opposition to government policies into harmless channels.

In the following years, Rifondazione increasingly orientated towards and sought to win influence in the protest movement against globalisation. Maitan’s tendency enthusiastically supported this turn, even though the representatives of the anti-globalisation movement explicitly reject a socialist perspective. At the same time, the party maintained its orientation towards participation in government. This became clear in June 2003. Immediately after the failure of a referendum over the extension of job protection laws to small-scale factories, which had been initiated by Rifondazione, Bertinotti told the press that his party was striving to arrive at a programmatic agreement with the centre-left parties for the next elections and was also prepared to take up ministerial posts in a future centre-left government.

Fausto Bertinotti, who has headed Rifondazione since 1994, embodies the opportunist nature of this party. Born in 1940, he was for many years a member of the PCI, but did not belong to its inner leadership circle. He rose to prominence as a union functionary in the northern Italian industrial belt and gained a reputation as a left-wing trade unionist. He is adept at crafting left, even Marxist-sounding formulations, while his policies are of an entirely opportunist nature. Every practical step is assessed according to its immediate consequence. Long-term or principled considerations have no place in the elaboration of his political line. His lip service to socialism is aimed merely at adapting to the moods of his supporters.

Maitan had expended considerable energy in depicting Bertinotti in the most favourable light. He developed a close relationship with the leader of Rifondazione, with whom he undertook extensive political discussions just hours before his death. His hymns of praise for Bertinotti resemble in part the flattery at a feudal court. Four years ago, Maitan reviewed Bertinotti’s newly published book “Ideas which do not die.” Heaping praise on the book, he wrote, “For our part, we share Bertinotti’s judgement: the crucial contradiction currently resides precisely in the fact that it is more than ever necessary to put the perspective of the overthrow of capitalism on the agenda whereas the relationship of forces and the regression of anti-capitalist consciousness constitutes a major obstacle in this sense.” (18)

To claim that the leader of Rifondazione wants to“put the perspective of the overthrow of capitalism on the agenda,” is, in light of his political record, simply absurd. In reality, Bertinotti’s party itself is a decisive obstacle towards the development of an anti-capitalist perspective.

Bertinotti has repaid Maitan’s support by singing his praises and writing an introduction to the latter’s biography, which appeared in 2002.

Maitan has also defended the majority around Bertinotti from criticisms made by the party’s left wing. The Progetto Comunista current rejects opening up the party to the centre-left alliance and criticizes its adaptation to the anti-globalisation movement from a syndicalist standpoint. The leader of Progetto Comunista, Marco Ferrando said that this movement should “not be transformed into a myth.” In response, Maitan accused Ferrando of putting forward “a sectarian vision of the anti-globalisation movement.” He had decided “to marginalize himself in relation to the process of historic transformation in the PRC.” (19)

Irrespective of isolated differences and occasional criticism made by Maitan—always accompanied by numerous excuses—his Bandiera-Rossa tendency is an important political prop for Rifondazione and Bertinotti. It shields the party and its leadership from criticisms from the left and prevents the working class from developing an independent socialist orientation. Never did Maitan and his supporters warn the working class against the opportunist and unprincipled nature of this organisation. At no point did they prepare the working class to take up a socialist path independently from Rifondazione. Just two years ago, Maitan enthused in International Viewpoint over the party’s “special, indeed unique character in the history of the Italian workers movement.” He added, “It would today be difficult to find its equivalent not only among the parties of the European left, but also among those parties which identify with the working class and socialism in Europe and other continents.” (20)

This is just eyewash. In reality, there is nothing to differentiate Rifondazione from other opportunist parties, which stand with one leg in the extra-parliamentary protest and strike movement, while the second is firmly anchored in official bourgeois political life. The post-Stalinist Party of Democratic Socialism in Germany (PDS), the Pabloite Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire or the Communist Party in France, the Socialist Alliance in England, and many other groups play a similar role in one form or another. In periods of profound social crisis, they all operate as a left prop for the bourgeois order. It is no accident that all of these organisations maintain links with Rifondazione.

Maitan’s last international appearance

Alain Krivine, a member of the United Secretariat and leader of the French LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire), confirmed that Maitan had pioneered on an international level the policy of “opening up” to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces.

In his obituary of Maitan Krivine, writes: “With the death of Livio, a chapter has been closed, but thanks to him, another has begun—that of ‘opening up’.... Since the ’90s, Livio and other leaders of the International had understood the phenomena of the decomposition and reorganisation of the revolutionary workers movement. They knew that this could not take place exclusively through the Fourth International, and that it was necessary to contribute to the new foundation of a programme and anti-capitalist force which breaks equally with social democracy and Stalinist betrayal. The perspective already began to emerge to assist the reorganisation of anti-capitalist forces, irrespective of their traditions and origin.” (21)

This closes the circle. Maitan carried to its logical conclusion the political orientation chosen by the United Secretariat in 1953. At that time, Pablo rejected the construction of independent sections of the Fourth International with the justification that it was necessary to integrate into the “real mass movement”, i.e., Stalinist Parties, petty-bourgeois nationalist formations and other organisations that had won some influence in the post-war period. With not a single expectation placed upon these organisations fulfilled and with the Soviet Union having collapsed, the United Secretariat seeks to establish links to other forces, “irrespective of their traditions and origin.”

What this means in practice is the complete integration into official bourgeois politics. Amongst the “anti-capitalist” forces Maitan refers to is not only Rifondazione in Italy, but also the Brazilian Workers Party (PT), which has governed a country of 175 million people for the past two years. A member of the Brazilian section of the United Secretariat, Miguel Rossetto, heads the country’s Ministry for Agricultural Reform. At the 15th World Congress of the United Secretariat, the last one in which Maitan participated, he made a point of expressly approving such collaboration.

In his opening address he announced: “In principle, we have never suffered from the fatal malady of the workers movement that is parliamentary cretinism.... Thus we are not afraid to stress, as a reflection of our growing influence, the fact that in the last decade we have had parliamentary representatives elected in a series of countries, from Brazil to the Philippines, Denmark to Portugal and to the European Parliament. In Brazil, a comrade like Miguel Rossetto, whose qualities and militant spirit are known, is today a member of the government emerging from the unprecedented popular success represented by the election of Lula. Miguel has assumed a crucial responsibility with the task of accomplishing a radical agrarian reform, capable of generating a more general dynamic of rupture with the system. We will follow and support his fight, supported by all the most advanced sectors of the PT and the MST [Landless Rural Workers Movement] and, stifling an underlying anguish for the extreme difficulty of the enterprise, we express to him in this congress our warmest solidarity.” (22)

Maitan’s prophecy of a “dynamic of rupture with the system” has rapidly revealed itself to be nothing more than a fantasy. Rossetto has assumed official responsibility in a government that has continued in an uninterrupted fashion the neo-liberal policies of its right-wing predecessor. It is a government that has won the trust of the Brazilian bourgeoisie and that has received the highest praise from the International Monetary Fund. It is not even “anti-capitalist” in words. The prestige that President Inácio “Lula” da Silva acquired as a militant trade unionist is being exploited to pacify a working class that would otherwise threaten to rebel. The Pabloites are carrying out a key role in this respect.

If there is one lesson that can be drawn from the life of Maitan, it is that there exists no substitute for the patient construction of an international socialist party that organises the working class independently from bourgeois parties and bureaucratic apparatuses under the banner of the Fourth International. Such a party will become a powerful source of attraction under conditions of a profound crisis of global capitalism expressed in permanent attacks on the rights and welfare of broad layers of the population and in imperialist wars such as the current one in Iraq.


16) Flavia D’Angeli, “New turn for PRC,” International Viewpoint 359, May/June 2004
17) Livio Maitan, “Refounding Rifondazione,” International Viewpoint 340, May 2002
18) Livio Maitan, “On Fausto Bertinotti’s book,” International Viewpoint 326, December 2000
19) Livio Maitan, “Refounding Rifondazione,” International Viewpoint 340, May 2002
20) Livio Maitan, “Refounding Rifondazione,” International Viewpoint 340, May 2002
21) Alain Krivine, “Ciao compagno!” Rouge 30. September 2004
22) Livio Maitan, “Opening Speech of the Congress,” International Viewpoint 349, May 2003