As the Bush administration, the Vatican and the business community attempt to shift the Italian center-left government towards the center, the left is thinking in new ways to counter that shift. The left (Refoundation, the Party of Italian Communists and the Greens) represents 12 percent of the parliamentary vote. They are unified in that they will not split the center-left, allowing the return of the ultra-right government of Berlusconi.

The center-left clearly has a program much more sensitive to the working class and to questioning the Bush administration’s permanent war policies.

Nevertheless, further progress may be threatened. A new Democratic Party will merge the Democrats of the Left with the more centrist Margherita party, diluting the left element in the comparatively large Democrats of the Left. Some of these elements will continue to coordinate with the left parties.

Another threat is posed by possible cooperation with elements of the other Christian Democratic Party that had fought on the side of Berlusconi and is now sliding towards the middle.

What is new in the left now is not only the rejection of a split that would lead to the return of Berlusconi but also a search for new forms that would make their unity more solid in the center-left government.

Refoundation has limited its push for all left forces to come under a one-party umbrella and is looking for a level of unity that could mobilize all left elements in a concentrated response. The Party of Italian Communists is putting aside its long-term goal of a confederational left structure that would allow organizational diversity while acting as a single arm in policy formation. The two parties appear headed towards discussions on new forms that both can accept.

Refoundation faces a greater internal struggle over the new adjustments. Several of its organized sections saw Refoundation’s concept of the socialist alternative as a principled position against a center-left government. The majority of the party has now come to see the concept as essentially a political strategy to be adjusted by practice and tactics.

Indeed, the experience of the Berlusconi ultra-right government led many Refoundation members to see the socialist alternative concept as consistent with belonging to a center-left government.

The first organized section to leave Refoundation was Communist Project, led by Marco Ferrando, who had been an active participant in the Fourth International. Franco Turigliatto, a Refoundation Senator, was expelled from the party for two years and has resigned from parliament after placing the vote that led to the failure of the center-left party position over the last week.

Both Refoundation and the Party of Italian Communists allow their members to express opposition to policies during debate as long as they take no voting action that would bring back the ultra-right, pro-Bush Berlusconi administration. Refoundation has been helped in its adjustments by the acceptance of the center-left formation by many of the mass movements it relates to, as the only political option to the horrors of the Berlusconi administration.