RIMINI, Italy — The recent general elections here resulted in a defeat for the ultra-right Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister, and his supporting parties. But the government, now run by a coalition of center-left parties and headed by Prime Minister Prodi, won by the barest of margins. Italy is a divided country.

Neoliberal and ultra-right policies are at the heart of political, social and economic divisions. Neoliberalism is an economic term that means capitalism without any government regulation (e.g. labor or environmental standards) or role for the public sector (e.g. privatization).

Ultra-right arguments go like this: the only way to save Italy’s economy is the destruction of the state as a guarantor of living standards for the Italian people; the best foreign policy is to support the Bush administration, including in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the Italian constitution, with its rights and liberties in social as well as political matters, is expendable.

Media magnate and billionaire Berlusconi, the leader of this neoliberal and ultra-right movement, has been under investigation for corruption.

Although it lost its grip on the Parliament, the ultra-right has not given up its drive to regain political power. Backed by the Bush administration, the Vatican and the powerful employer association, Berlusconi’s forces played a critical role in mobilizing a no-confidence vote that brought down the center-left government temporarily.

Although the recent local elections did not bring the crushing defeat to the center-left parties as predicted by Berlusconi, the center-left did lose some support.

The center-left government is a balance of forces between many who are influenced by some neoliberal thinking and left-wing parties, who reject these policies. Yet, left forces that make up approximately one-third of the coalition also compete with each other for support.

It was in this setting that the Party of Italian Communists (PdCI) held its fourth congress at the end of April. PdCI is a part of the center-left government.

The congress hosted 60 foreign delegations from 40 countries, including Cuba, Palestine’s Fatah, the Revolutionary Afghan Women’s Association — who all spoke — and the Communist Party USA, who received strong applause when its presence was announced.

Oliviero Diliberto, secretary general of PdCI, set the tone for the role of the Communists at this moment. “Our responsibility is not to pick holes in the failings of the center-left government which would be too easy to do. Our responsibility is to help them respect the agreements they agreed upon [with the left] in the formation of the center-left government. It should begin with the benefits of the budget surplus going to the weakest sectors of the population, against reducing pensions, increasing the precarious salaries, and aid to the elderly, health care and schools,” he said.

At the same time, Diliberto warned, “It is necessary to always remember that [the center-left government] is the most advanced balance of power possible against the ultra-right at this moment in time.”

The fourth congress became more than a congress for the PdCI; it also became a rallying point for the left within the government. It pointedly welcomed the presence of leaders of the center, including Prodi, the president of the Senate and the president of the Chamber, all of whom addressed the congress.

Media attention was strong, with television cameras and print media journalists hovering around every national figure as they strolled into the congress.

Diliberto’s call for the unity of a “left without adjectives” captured the imagination of all the left forces, which have had competitive agendas with each other. First and foremost was the embrace of Fausto Bertinotti, longtime leader of Communist Refoundation. Today, Bertinotti is an important part of the government, serving as president of the Chamber, Italy’s House of Representatives. Other left leaders from the government coalition attended, including those from the Green Party and the new Left Democrats.

“We want to help the government, we wish this government well and we affirm at this congress that we will try to help it with maximum loyalty,” Dilberto said. But to help it means also “to correct the errors, the blind spots and the defects.”

Brian Steinberg represented the CPUSA at the PdCI congress.