The Left

These things happen

I’ve just finished a dinner with a left-wing Italian friend, somewhat spoilt by my over-enthusiastic use of milk in the mashed potato for fish pie (with salmon, cod and prawns since you ask) but saved and indeed enhanced by the excellent bottle of Barolo he brought along.

Anyway, he’s a Stopper to all extents and purposes, although a Stopper and a communist who is at least willing to consider criticism of his movement and its positions.

Which leads me to this article from the English language section of Corriere della Sera, which suggests some rethinking is going on among the leaders of the country’s main centre-left party.

Hyperrealism and relativism are, at least in part, understandable among conservatives. They are much less comprehensible among those who should not, even after the downfall of their old gods, abandon internationalist ideals, and should be taking the side of anyone, anywhere, who lays claim to democracy, liberty, and rights.

This is the contradiction that Democrats of the Left (DS) Secretary Piero Fassino has courageously tackled head on in a fine interview with La Stampa newspaper’s Federico Geremicca. Mr Fassino goes well beyond the nonetheless significant statements on the Iraqi elections made at the last DS congress. Naturally, he has not changed his mind on military intervention, nor is he lining up with those who would export democracy at bayonet point, or make preventive, and in a sense permanent, war against anyone who might be identified from time to time as the main enemy.

But Mr Fassino has said at least two, potentially shattering, new things. The first is that when Mr Bush spells out that he is fighting “for freedom and democracy in Arab countries,” he is turning on its head – positively, according to Mr Fassino – the traditional policy of Republican administrations that “supported fascist military dictatorships in South America in the name of political realism.” Mr Bush is not Henry Kissinger, and this cannot be ignored.

The second point is that the democratic ferment evident almost everywhere in the Arab world has its origins in a general process of secularization that has not left Muslim societies unscathed. This, too, cannot be ignored by those who, like Mr Fassino, side with people laying claim to these values where hitherto they have been denied, and refuse to support the oppressors merely for fear of jeopardizing the status quo.

It may not be a revolution, but it is a very important step forward. It is likely that Mr Fassino will now attract the fire of Italy’s neoconservatives, who will accuse him of not taking a clear stand, and of the pacifists at any price, who will accuse him of opportunism. These things happen, when you are looking for a way forward without the assistance of aging, ever less comforting, certainties. They are no cause for alarm.

I particularly like the phrase taking the side of anyone, anywhere, who lays claim to democracy, liberty, and rights. That should be clause one of any (re)constitution of the left.

(Grazie a Roberto)