The defeat of the Italian left in the recent elections

The defeat of the Italian left in the recent elections

The defeat of Rivoluzione Civile (Civil Revolution, a newly-established party) in the recent elections was much worse than expected. The coalition led by Antonio Ingroia (a former public magistrate involved in the investigation about state-mafia dealings) had little appeal for the electorate nationally, receiving 2.25% of the vote for the Camera (lower house) and 1.79% for the Senate.

In the lower house, the combined votes of Rivoluzione Civile and Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà (SEL – Left, Ecology and Freedom) did not even reach 5.5%. This was a total debacle especially as in the 2008 elections – which also resulted in a crushing defeat of the left – other parties in broadly the same political arena as Rivoluzione Civile and SEL managed to get 8.27% of the vote. Looking at numbers, the two parties dropped more than one million votes in the lower house compared with 2008. In the Senate, they lost more than two million votes compared with 2006 when Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation, a left-wing party) alone got 5.8%, over 2.2 million votes. That result meant that Rifondazione Comunista was the fifth political force in Italy at the time. What happened?

Rifondazione Comunista

At its peak in 1997, Rifondazione Comunista had 130,504 members. Membership then decreased steadily, reaching 40,000 when the party collapsed in 2009. The collapse was a consequence of the internal split which pushed Nichi Vendola, currently the Governor of Puglia, to found Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà, a party closer to the centre-left. Rifondazione Comunista is a fragmented party that, even though it has a national presence, is no longer able to represent the grassroots. The situation worsened after the split with SEL. Long standing alliances with the centre-left coalition, both locally and nationally, seriously compromised Rifondazione Comunista’s credibility with its supporters. After failure in the 2008 elections, the party was not a credible option for voters in the 2013 elections.

L’Italia dei Valori

Italia dei Valori (An Italy of Values) is a party centred around a former magistrate and former minister, Antonio Di Pietro. In recent elections, Italia dei Valori gained votes by capitalising on voters’ anger about corruption in politics. The party’s main thrust has been the need to fight crime and corruption while also taking a liberal, right-wing approach to issues such as work, immigration and conditions in prisons.

In the 2009 European elections, the party got 8% of the vote, and in the 2008 national elections, it had got 4.4% which made it a vital ally for the left-wing coalition. In October 2012, Antonio Di Pietro was involved in a scandal about properties which apparently had been bought with party money from public funds for electoral reimbursements. (Italian parties receive electoral reimbursements for campaign expenses. After political corruption scandals in 1992, private support to political parties was outlawed by the government.) The scandal involving Antonio Di Pietro wiped out the party as it was mainly created around him. A number of prominent members left,resulting in collapse. The party tried to survive the scandal by promoting Antonio Ingroia’s Rivoluzione Civile.

Rivoluzione Civile

The umbrella of Rivoluzione Civile covers Italia dei Valori, Rifondazione Comunista and a number of small leftist movements including the “movimento arancione” (orange movement) of Luigi De Magistris (Mayor of Naples), the Green Party, the Italian Communist Party and Cambiare Si Puo’ (Change is Possible). During the last few months before the elections, Cambiare Si Puo’ launched an appeal for change promoted by well-known intellectuals such as Marco Revelli, Luciano Gallino and Chiara Sasso, published on the website of the left-wing newspaper Il Manifesto. It was not possible to translate this appeal into political action, though, and to meet the challenge of the imminent elections. Intellectuals and political leaders who had come together under the umbrella of Rivoluzione Civile clashed. Intellectuals asked for candidates not involved in any scandals but were unable to put forward anyone as a viable and radical alternative.

Sinistra Ecologia Libertà

Nichi Vendola’s party, despite the charisma and position of its leader, had terrible electoral results. Expectations were high but SEL lost voters even in Puglia, the region led by Vendola himself for years and where he was re-appointed as governor in 2010. In Puglia, SEL got 6.5% of the vote. In Taranto, home of the ILVA steelworks, it got 4.3% while the national result was 3.2% in the lower house and 2.97% in the Senate.

Gay, Catholic and an ex-communist, Vendola has had enthusiastic support during both his first and his second run for Governor. Although his second term has been marred by several scandals, the latest, involving the ILVA steelworks, is the worst in terms of public credibility. According to a judicial investigation, Vendola protected ILVA whose steelworks are accused of polluting the region, by exerting pressure on the regional environmental agency to hide studies showing the pollution. The scandals affected Vendola’s political party badly as its mission had been always pro-environment (Ecologia).

What now?

A few days after the electoral defeat, Rifondazione Comunista’s leadership resigned. A discussion over what will happen to the party is ongoing. Antonio Di Pietro resigned as leader of Italia dei Valori, probably determining the end of this party as well. The Five Star Movement succeeded by claiming as its own many of left-wing protests – such as NoTAV – and by bringing together the public’s general dislike of corrupt politics with its desire for change. The Five Star Movement was also able to capture the anti-corruption platform of Italia dei Valori at the same time as attracting those disappointed electors who once voted for Rifondazione Comunista. Hypocritically, the latter has been opposing austerity measures put into place with the approval of the Democratic Party (PD) whilst looking for alliances with the centre-left. Rivoluzione Civile tried but failed to establish a dialogue with the PD in order to prevent an alliance between the latter and Mario Monti. As a result, Rivoluzione Civile was unable to deliver a clear message to those who wanted to vote against austerity and so ended up with no votes.

The day after the elections, Vendola tried to act as intermediary between the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement in order to create a coalition government. Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, refused and Vendola’s attempt came to nothing.

The left which used to be such a part of Italian life and institutions is fading away. Not only did the generic and inconsistent statements of Grillo appear more convincing to many leftists than any proposals by Rivoluzione Civile or SEL but the Five Star Movement was also capable of attracting votes from places where important struggles, such as Taranto and Val Susa, are taking place. We’ll be talking more about these places in future articles.

More sources and information are available here.

Posted By

Mar 14 2013 10:27


  • The defeat of Rivoluzione Civile (Civil Revolution, a newly-established party) in the recent elections was much worse than expected.

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Mar 17 2013 16:38

Just to say I thought that this was a really good article, and shows how the main parties of the Italian left have gone into meltdown by all shifting to the right over the years.. effectively not being radical enough to claim the support of those dissatisfied with the mainstream, but still being seen as too radical to break into mainstream politics.. anyway, a really interesting read, cheers!

Mar 17 2013 17:44

Thank you for the comment, Ed! It's nice to see that our work is appreciated.

Mar 17 2013 18:03

i second Ed, thanks for these reports Struggles
how does the Italian Communist Party differ in policy (or personality) from the Rifondazione?

Mar 23 2013 12:15

Sorry Petey for the delay in answering.
The PdCI is a party born from a split in Rifondazione in 1998, when the majority of Rifondazione wanted to retreat its support to the centre-left government. The PdCI is closer to the Democratic Party and claims the continuity with the old PCI, and particularly with the stalinist tradition. They were one of the stalinist wings of Rifondazione. After the split, the majority wing of Rifondazione came to positions that were closer to movements. Rifondazione played and important role in the anti-globalization movement protests in Italy.

Mar 23 2013 23:52

thanks again Struggles.