Italy – “we are in a mess and the politicians are doing nothing”*.

Enrico Letta - member of Bilderberg group and Italian prime minister
Enrico Letta – member of Bilderberg group and Italian prime minister

Words attributed to Luigi Prieti, lone  shooter arrested outside the parliament in Rome after shooting two policeman and injuring a passerby.

Dave Kellaway writes on the new government in Italy

Whatever you vote the political caste decides

Berlusconi’s broad grin said it all – he is laughing all the way to the bank and well away from any jail He had got what he wanted all along, a government of broad agreement between his party, the People of Liberty (PDL), the Democratic Party (PD, led by Bersani) and the previous Prime Minister, Monti’s, Civic Choice (SC) grouping. The uncritical media can dress it up as they like as a government in the national interests or the only way we can avoid catastrophe and so on but it is essentially a austerity ‘Monti’ mark 2 government even containing a small number of non-party ministers from the last government.  All the markets are happy – for the moment – and Barroso from the EU has poured praise onto the Italian political class.  Predictably, the mainstream media here, including even the Guardian reporters, have presented the new government as some sort of hopeful change –we had the same superficial analysis a year ago with Monti’s arrival on the scene.

Enrico Letta, the new prime minister from the PD’s  most moderate wing,  has tried to present it as new and modern by choosing seven women ministers, including one from an ethnic minority, and by selecting ‘younger’ politicians.  Letta’s allegiance is clear as he  himself is a member two pro-US thinktanks, the secretive Bilderberg group and the Trilateral commission. He has included Saccomanni, the head of the Italian state bank to run one of the economic ministries, another signal to the markets, and has persuaded Bonnino, the popular ex-Radical feminist MP to join the cabinet. There is the usual talk of focussing more on growth and helping get the young working again. Berlusconi’s right hand man, Alfano has been given the key interior ministry post which given the potential instability in the country is not without significance.

The shooting outside parliament today appears to be an individual cry of anger but is expressive of the wider despair that exists in this country after years of austerity. Although the right wing  have tried to make some sort of link with the M5S or the mass action Beppe Grillo has denounced the individual criminality of such acts and so has the left as a whole.

Official statistics last month showed that alongside the 2.7 million officially unemployed in 2012, there were 3 million more who said they wanted jobs but were not actively looking for them, meaning they are not counted as unemployed. Even the official rate is 11% which is a meaningless figure is 3 % higher than the UK. A million young Italians have emigrated over the last decade.  This new government, aptly defined by Grillo as the bunga bunga government (after Berlusconi’s sex parties) or the unsavoury minestra (soup with beans, veg and pasta) is really symbolised by the fact that Letta is the nephew of one of Berlusconi’s lieutenants and one of the PD ministers is married to a PDL one!

The problem of course is that considerably more than half the Italian electorate voted against Berlusconi  if you add the 25% of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S), Nikki Vendola and his Socialism, Liberty and Ecology group’s (SEL)  3-4% and the PD’s 26%. Most of these also voted against the Monti government’s austerity policy to a great or lesser extent. Berlusconi lost more votes in this election compared to the previous one than any other politician yet his party is firmly back at the centre of this coalition. We have the same elsewhere in Europe during this crisis where the will of the people expressed imperfectly in elections is continually ignored since rarely have winning parties argued during the election campaign for the policies they are currently implementing both Greece and the UK are different examples of this.

PD cannot even manage its own moderation effectively

The PD electorate might not have been mobilising for any sort of challenge to the Troika or capitalism but they certainly did not want a PD-PDL stitch up. Throughout the campaign Bersani hammered home the anti-Berlusconi line and argued for a ‘government of change’. In the aftermath of the election he continued this approach when given the first shot at forming a government by the president, Napolitano. He said either there is a government of change which has some limited support from the M5S or Monti or we should have new elections.  Not surprisingly there is a huge debate and anger inside the PD. At one stage the PD youth were occupying a number of the party offices demanding an explanation from their leadership. At the present time Pippo Civati, one of the PD MPs refusing to toe the line over voting the confidence motion in this government, is claiming about twenty will join him in voting against and he claims about 50 share his position. It appears many less will actually bite the bullet, already some dissidents are coming back onside.  But how did it all unravel for Bersani and the PD?

Once Bersani had to hand back his ‘Prime ministerial’ baton to Napolitano after failing to get the numbers he needed, the whole pantomine shifted onto the election of a new President since Napolitino’s term of office was up.  Everybody understood that the byzantine manoeuvres on this would determine whether a government could be subsequently formed.  Bersani and the PD put forward two names, first Marini and then Prodi who were both from the moderate centre left and at least the former was supposed to be acceptable to the right. However Bersani could not even get his own party to vote for what they had agreed and both names were eliminated.  He resigned his position as party leader. At this stage Napolitano was rolled out again and he was elected by everybody except, to their honour, the M5S and the SEL.  The wily old ex-resistance fighter yet notorious saviour of Italian bourgeois interests over many years, displayed all his skills. Using his prestige as ‘national treasure’, he emotionally lambasted the assembled MPs telling them that they had to come to a deal in the national interest. All the MPs cheerfully applauded the criticism of their own inadequacies, an irony seemingly lost on them all.  A suitable moderate face from the PD, Letta, was chosen to lead the dance and a few days later the deal, the ‘stitch-up’ was made.  Many questions have been raised about the constitutionality of Napolitano’s actions but everybody knew that he was always for the ‘stitch-up’. Of course he has denounced any of the media for using such an irreverent term for the Italian government.

During all this the M5S remained resolutely opposed to all the manoeuvres of what they call the political caste. Their online poll ended up with a moderate left candidate for president, Stefano Rodota who was a principled character who had supported the campaign against water privatisation (against the PD reticence on this). This ended up being a very astute move because the base of the PD and the SEL both also supported this candidature which was obviously unacceptable to Berlusconi since Rodota would not have been as accommodating as Napolitano with his legal problems.  What is absolutely clear is that the Italian establishment, fully backed by the Troika, consider the M5S with its radical democratic agenda, a destabilising element in the current political situation.  It has been frozen out of any of the normal parliamentary posts given to parties with its level of support, for example committees overseeing state television or the security services.

Ground Zero for the Left

Following the trauma experienced by the more radical left following the break-up of the Rifondazione project six years ago we now have the moderate mainstream left facing implosion. Already the SEL have abandoned its PD mother ship and will vote against this government, despite maintaining illusions all along that it was right and sensible to make an electoral bloc with Bersani’s pro-austerity PD. They are looking for a recomposition with what remains of a left inside the PD.  If PD MPs do not vote in favour of the confidence motion they do face expulsion which could lead to linking up with Vendola.  The PD is essentially made up of the left moderate Christian Democrats and the moderate majority of the old PCI  and both these blocs contain a number of currents and factions.  RenzitThe young up and coming Blair figure who got 40% in the primaries against Bersani is likely to be making his move at the upcoming congress although he fully supports this government.  It is unclear how far any left recomposition of the mainstream left will actually build an alternative to the PD’s austerity line. Vendola has already talked about ‘responsible opposition’ and the track record of the PD lefts in actually building a class struggle opposition is meagre indeed. Their resistance crumbles a little more each day.

Outside of these developments there are various initiatives continuing and new ones starting.  The FIOM has called for a national demonstration on the 18th of May which could be a useful focus of opposition to the government. A leading left member of the FIOM, Giorgio Cremaschi, has called for the government to be overturned. An appeal has been made calling for an anti-capitalist, libertarian political movement signed by a hundreds of well-known trade union and political activists. They are calling for a national assembly in Bologna on the 11th May.  Resistance continues in various struggles whether is around the anti-high speed rail link through the Val de Susa valley, the occupations of  public empty buildings by Communia in Rome or around the Taranto steelworks. It appears likely that the CGIL leaderships (along with the other moderate unions) will adopt the same softly, softly approach they made to the Monti government. The Comitati no Debito (No Debt committee) is also doing useful work.  Forces around Ferrero’s remnant of Rifondazione are also making appeals for recomposing the left. Other critical voices are saying given the extent of the defeats that it is premature to regroup existing remnants but we need to get out and rebuild the progressive movement itself both in the trade unions and by developing the independent space of the social movements.

The reality is that on a national level the main political opposition to this government will be the M5S movement.  The failures of both the mainstream and radical left have contributed to the rise of this movement. In the present situation it is important for the fighting left to try and link up with the M5S activists on the ground in resisting this austerity government and putting forward positive alternatives.

Crisis far from over

Apart from Berlusconi’s smile the other revelatory judgment on the Italian crisis is expressed by Anatole Kaletsky, a noted analyst, on the Reuters site:

“Thus, Italy will now have a functioning democratic government, and one that will stick to most of the Monti policies approved by Brussels and Berlin. Moreover, this government is likely to be stable for at least the next six months, since all the established parties have agreed that a new electoral law must be prepared before the next election to prevent a repeat of the present chaos and to try to block Grillo’s advance.

This means that the direst possibilities suggested by Monti’s humiliating defeat last February and the unexpected gains by Grillo and Berlusconi have been eliminated, or at least postponed. There will be no serious effort to reverse Italian fiscal austerity policies before the next election.”

However he does go on to add a downside to this short term success which is the resurgence of Berlusconi as a political force and the weakening of the PD because Renzi is not going to be starting from a strong position if the PD implodes. Berlusconi will be able to  present himself as the national saviour faced with the inexorable rise of the Beppe Grillo movement.  The Troika have already been here once when Berlusconi was elbowed out and Monti was installed.  Truly the crisis of bourgeois political representation continues.  The elite are aware of the risks in the situation, just the other day Napolitano made a great play of denouncing the opposition between the piazza and political parties – he just wants everyone to play it along his lines.  What needs to be constructed is a force to the left of the PD that could seize the opportunity of this crisis to present a credible alternative that begins to meet the needs of working people.



Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.