Italy: Vendola Provides Hope for the Left

July 25, 2010 11:06 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Amid the political convulsions that are hitting Berlusconi’s government and producing the first real fall in legitimacy for the executive since 2008, the centre-left coalition finds it difficult to capture this outflow in consensus to consolidate its own position. Surprisingly enough, the internal difficulties within Berlusconi’s party, as well as the emergence of new judiciary scandals involving some of his closest collaborators, are by no means giving oxygen to a lacklustre Democratic Party (PD in the Italian acronym), the biggest of the opposing coalition.

The opinion pools are quite clear in indicating a further erosion of trust in its leaders and the overall assessment of the organisation is dismal. The general perception confirms this: both in TV and private conversations alike, PD is treated as a synonym of joke. In this general state of apathy in which the left has lied for quite some years already, it would be difficult to believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

However, and if yet only in the making, the challenge launched by Nichi Vendola constitutes the only promising laboratory within the Italian left. The enthusiasm generated around his figure and his proposals speaks for itself. Vendola, as mentioned previously on these pages ( has been recently re-elected as governor of the populous southern region Apulia, but this has not impeded him from engaging with national politics.

His assets are well-known: a talented speaker, by mixing poetical and cultivated language in his speeches, he manages to connect with the bulk of left-wing voters more directly than any of the uninspiring leaders of the centre-left coalition. Nevertheless, Vendola has the capacity to project and extend the range of his politics beyond the boundaries of the small circle of radicals from which he originates: the jargon and the cultural references he employs are intended to reach out not only the classic constituencies of the left, but to get in touch with the people as such, without falling in the temptation to clumsily imitate the right.

At the same time, he recognises the necessity to create a broad coalition, but on a solidly left-anchored political agenda. In this sense, despite an ally of the centre-left, he is a fierce criticiser of the grey politics of the PD and its elitist nomenclature. This strategy collocates him in a privileged position, as the state of political decadence of the Democratic Party is clear even to its own voters.

Despite he intensified his political activism in the last few months by releasing several interviews to TV programmes and newspapers, and by participating to crucial national happenings, his bid for the leadership of the centre-left coalition has been made explicit only last week. The occasion has been the national meeting of the so-called ‘fabbriche di Nichi’ (factories of Nichi) held in Bari from July 16 to 18, where almost 2,000 people have gathered.

The factories of Nichi were born a few months ago as a type of collectives spread on the territory with the precise purpose of promoting the second candidacy of Vendola, but external to the party apparatuses. After the regional elections, their role was upgraded to cultural and political laboratories for the construction of ‘good politics’, and have come to cover a vast part of the national territory. In other words, the ‘fabbriche’ are spaces for discussion and political education where people from different backgrounds, but disillusioned with the PD, come together.

Vendola has made clear that the factories have to remain external to electoral politics as such, and has ascribed them the task to provide the intellectual wherewithal from which the left should draw. The move is terribly smart and derives from the realisation that a political project can hardly be successful if it does not rely on a network of movements and associations. However, in a conjuncture in which party politics is seen with suspicion both for an internalised diffidence of post-modern fashion among social movements and for the objective low reputation that politics enjoys in Italy, Vendola has preferred to provide himself a space where people can act politically without falling in the disenchantment that Italian politics brings with itself.

Yet much road remains to be made. It is all but certain that the PD will allow a process of primary elections within the coalition to choose the next candidate to Prime Minister. And even in case Vendola will obtain the leadership, problems regarding alliances and political programmes are likely to surface very quickly. For the time being, he has provided only some basic tenets that would orientate his political action, when in power. Nevertheless, just like how Vendola baptised his closing speech in Bari last Sunday, it is a matter of ‘darkness and light’. Maybe the end of the tunnel is nearer than we think.

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This post was written by Samuele Mazzolini

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