Italy: The economic crisis becomes a political and institutional crisis

The latest events that have happened in Italian politics mark a new phase of development in the crisis in the third European industrial power.

The economic storm that has wreaked havoc on the economy first transformed itself into a social crisis and now into a veritable institutional crisis.

Youth unemployment has gone over 30%; more than 450,000 workers risk finding themselves from one day to the next without any income due to the funds running out for the lay-off pay paid by the regional governments; in 2012 more than a thousand firms a day closed. The phenomenon of suicides is growing; on 14 April, in one day alone, a small fruit seller and two unemployed people took their lives.

Against this tragic background, the extreme fragmentation of the Italian capitalist class and the absence of a political representation of the workers is producing an analogous fragmentation and loss of control of the so-called ’political class’. Workers and vast sectors of the middle class accuse the politicians of continuing to demand sacrifices from them and at the same time remaining in possession of their own privileges. While the Italian bourgeoisie on the one hand calls on the parties to carry on with their anti-people measures without listening to what is going on in the streets, on the other they criticise them for not having enough of a consensus to guarantee governability and demand ’class unity’ to carry out the reforms ’Necessary for the country’, that is for them, against the workers and the middle class.

The escalation of suicides, just as the extreme gesture of one unemployed man from the South who, during the swearing in of the ministers, opened fire on three policemen of the parliamentary guard, declaring afterwards that his real target was the politicians, indicate the climate of exasperation. But at the same time they show how exasperation, without a political and social outlet, is destined to tranlsate into such gestures – desperate at the same time as merely symbolic.

Berlusconi resuscitated by the Democratic Party

The Democratic Party, at the end of 2011, with Berlusconi reduced to historic lows of credibility, was afraid of saying no to being the agent in Italy on behalf of the European Central Bank and of going to elections and succeeded from then until today in doing everything that was within their power to restore Berlusconi’s lost credibility and risk their own. They voted together with him for the raising of the pension age, the cancellation of Article 18 (of the labour statutes), the IMU – an odious tax on first homes and, after having governed a year and a half with the Centre-right, carried out an election campaign on the slogan ’No agreement with Berlusconi’. And while the leader of the PD, Bersani, was giving interviews explaining in a confused way what his party would do once it had won the elections, Berlusconi was taking over the talk shows promising the abolition of IMU.

Beppe Grillo was filling the squares demanding the abolition of politicians’ privileges, but also the establishment of a citizen’s wage, the nationalisation of the banks and big companies like Monte dei Paschi and Telecom and the cutting of military spending, cancelling Italy’s commitments in Afghanistan and Mali.

The result of the election followed the laws of marketing technique: in a market full of products substantially the same and ’costly’, a quarter of the consumers chose not to buy anything; one quarter chose a new brand, original and low cost (the Five Star Movement of Grillo); the rest of the demand was divided equally between the other products, preferring the traditional ones (PD and Berlusconi’s PDL) to ones that were just as costly but with no history (Monti).

After the election, Bersani, secretary of the PD, the second force after the M5Star in number of votes, but first by number of parliamentary representatives, employed all his own tactical skills to commit suicide. He asked for the job of forming a government without having the numbers and got it. He continued to repeat that never and once more never would the PD make an agreement with Berlusconi (while he had declared himself ready for a pact with Bersani ’for the good of the country’).

He wrote an eight point programme, the fruits of a compromise between the half of the PD that wanted to go with Berlusconi and the half that was against and trusted Grillo to support a PD government to get some points implemented. The first of those points was, ’to reconcile the discipline of the budget with productive public investments and to obtain maximum flexibility in the medium term targets for the public finances’. This was a proposal so ridiculous that even a comic would not have been able to accept it, and Grillo rejected it. It provoked the indignation of the centre-left and the press – ’irresponsible: he’s playing Berlusconi’s game’ – and even the criticism of the leader of the ailing Rifondazione Comunista – Ferrero – who, in his position, would have accepted the eight points without even reading them.

Meanwhile, the other delicate institutional game was approaching and that was the election of the new President of the republic. Berlusconi declared that he was ready to vote for a candidate of the PD, provided such a candidate was ’not hostile’ (meaning disposed to guaranteeing the impunity and survival of himself and his businesses).

Grillo at this point puts forward an intellectual, not responsible for big mistakes nor for big victories in the past, from within the PD – Stefano Rodotà, as a candidate, well regarded even in the ranks of the radical chic left as well as the PD electorate. But Bersani meets Berlusconi and together they agree a common candidate – Marini, former Christian Democrat general secretary of the trade union federation CISL and amongst the founders of the PD. A choice that everyone justifiably interprets as the prelude to a ’broad agreement’ government.

If Bersani had accepted Rodotà, he would have become president of the Republic with the votes of Grillo and the centre-left, would have given the task of forming a government to certain representatives of the centre-left unacceptable to Berlusconi and at this point it would have become very difficult for Grillo not to support such a government. However, everyone understood, including the PD voters, that the earlier agreement, the choice of Bersani, is due to an objective reality: the PD has more interests in common with the PDL than with M5S and on the other hand for 20 years every time the PD had the possibility of wiping out Berlusconi, it pulled back. The revolt broke out.

The PD had to meet and withdraw the candidature of Marini and put forward Prodi, not welcome for Berlusconi, wailed about betrayal. The candidature of Prodi was agreed unanimously, on the same day that 100 PD parliamentarians voted in secret urns for other candidates.

The last resort before complete institutional chaos, is the reappointment of Napolitano, also ex PD and extremely acceptable to Berlusconi who was the first to propose his reconfirmation. Bersani accepts and announces, finally, in the end, his own resignation as secretary. Members of the PD occupied several party offices. Dozens burnt their membership cards in the squares.

Napolitano and ’national responsibility’

Paraphrasing the title of a film by the Coen brothers, some students, after the re-election of the President of the Republic, went onto the streets with placards saying: ’ This is no country for young people’. Napolitano, old post-soviet archaeological remains, who defined the Soviet Union’s intervention in Hungary as the only way to ’prevent it from falling into chaos and counter-revolution’ and ’to safeguard world peace’, then leader of the right wing of the Communist Party of Italy (financed by Berlusconi), friend of the corrupt Craxi and his Socialist Party and friend of America and the first Italian ’communist’ invited to the United States, became the real dominant figure in Italian political life in the last few years. He has been the truest representative in Rome of the interests of Brussels and Frankfurt and the most fervent backer of Mario Monti.

Napolitano was acclaimed in Berlusconi’s era as a shining defender of morality. In fact, in 2004, when he was a Europarliamentarian, he was surprised by a German journalist trying to claim EUR800 for a flight from Brussels to Rome that cost EUR88 and reacted by having the journalist identified and taken in by the police. Recently he tried to interfere in the court case of the Palermo magistrates over the state-mafia dealings in the ’90s and managed to get tapes destroyed that had recordings of his phone calls with Nicola Mancino, interior minister at the time and between the main people on trial. After the recent Monte dei Paschi banking scandal broke, Napolitano asked the press ’not to make too much noise’.

A few hours after the news of his being re-nominated, thousands of people including many youth, besieged the parliament shouting ‘Rodotà! Rodotà!’ and ’Napolitano, we don’t want you!’. After the vote, the PD and PDL MPs had to be escorted out of the parliament by police. Coins were thrown at the leader of the ’left PD’. The ex-deputy secretary, Franceschini, was besieged by hundreds of people in a Rome restaurant.

An episode which is related only to the superstructure, like the election of the head of state, has become for thousands of people, worn down by the economic crisis and disgusted with politics, symbolic of a political class that preaches change but practices conservation, the spark that sets off the fire. Some old woman, interviewed in front of the parliament, said: ‘One month ago I was in Saint Peter’s Square to celebrate the new pope Francis I. The Catholic Church gives us an impression of trying to implement some change. The Italian state is not able to do the same’.

Grillo described the re-election of Napolitano as a ’mini coup’ and the same evening invited Italians to besiege parliament, announcing that he would arrive in the late evening. ’We must be in our millions’, he said. But a few hours after, he cancelled the demonstration, suggesting ’the violent ones should be isolated’ and gave the time for meeting in a square on the following afternoon. But the day after he appeared for just a few minutes. The Grillini MPs, the only ones who can walk the streets of Rome without an escort, responded to people calling for a march on the President’s residence – the Quirinale – by saying ’it’s not worth it’. ’In parliament we are many, and we can do ’cool’ things!’.

A left with a minimum of credibility would have been able to move into this vacuum and played a political role. Instead, the self-styled leaders of the far left limited themselves to criticising Grillo for not having done what they should have done.

National responsibility

Napolitano, who is 88 and once again ready to do battle to avoid the country ’falling into chaos’, has given the responsibility of government to Enrico Letta, ’young’ ex-Christian Democrat leader of the PD, liberal, nephew of Gianni Letta – trusted right hand man of Berlusconi and skilful operator in the most difficult negotiations between ’The Cavalier’ (Berlusconi), the centre-left and Italian and international capitalism (sitting on the advisory board of Goldman Sachs from 2007).

Letta Jnr has put together a techno-politico government, confirming various ministers of Monti’s (but not Monti), among them the one for European relations – a reassuring signal for Brussels.

On the political slopes, while various big names from the PDL are entering the government, in key rolestaking care even of the personal interests of Berlusconi, most of the leaders of the PD – with D’Alema and Bersani at their head, remain outside. There are only Letta and Franceschini, from a Christian Democratic background, some minor ex-PCI leaders and many unknown personalities, women and young people (among them a black woman doctor of Congolese origin and a one-time woman canoe champion from Germany), who owe eternal gratitude to Letta for having got through the casting for the reality show ’New faces at Chigi Palace (home of the government)’.

But the ministries that count remain firmly in the hands of seasoned politicians and experienced functionaries of the state, amongst them, at the economy, the ex director-general of the Bank of Italy. Anyway, this is not about a Summer-time government but meant to last long enough for a restructuring of the political system to avoid coming out of elections once more without a governing majority.

The social version of the government of ’national responsibility’ is the Pact between producers proposed in Turin by the bosses’ organisation, Confindustria to the union federations – CGIL, CISL and UIL – ’to save the factories and the country’ because ’we’re all in the same boat’ and promptly accepted by the unions. Some weeks later, the unions in Bologna invited Confindustria representatives to speak on the platform at the May Day demonstration in front of no more than 300, many of them trade union bureaucrats and pensioners.

Landini, the general secretary of the metalmechanics’ union (FIOM), responded to Confindustria that ’like on the Titanic we are all in the same boat, but those who were in the engine room were the first to drown’, provoking criticism from the CGIL general secretary, Camusso. FIOM has made a call for a national demonstration on 18 May of engineers, of students and the social movements for the right to work, the right to education, to health, and social justice and democracy. It could be the first opportunity to test how much the latest political developments have changed the mood on the streets.

But FIOM, without a political focus, risks being crushed in a pincer: Landini has been playing a ‘half political role’, due to the vacuum on the left, creating high expectations, more political than trade union, more amongst activists than metal-mechanics. On the other had, he has to manage a retreat on the trade union front due to sudden defeats, to political and social isolation and even a certain disorientation of the leading group in FIOM, without a clear trade union strategy and politically suspended between certain illusions in relation to the centre-left and the absence of a credible alternative on the left.

The left without a plan

The PD comes out of these events with its bones broken. Starting out with a centre-right in a coma and victory in its pocket they have succeeded in an enterprise which is something incredible, bringing Berlusconi back to power once more, making a deal with him in front of his electorate, without restraint. It’s like a firefighter who sets fire to his own car in full daylight on the pavement in front of his house, to get money from the insurance. Now a congress is being prepared in which Fabrizio Barca, ex minister of Monti, should be representing the ’internal left’. In the meantime critical voices are being raised in the ruling group and realignments taking place, voting their confidence in Letta. But the real incurable fracture, which indicates the end of the PD, is that with its own social base and its own electorate. A fracturing which will be heavily reflected inside a CGIL which is marching towards the congress in a devastating political, trade union and financial crisis.

If the PD has broken bones, Rifondazione and the left parties are by now in a phase of decomposition. Nichi Vendola, of the SEL (Left Ecology Liberty), after an embarrassing electoral result, has been forced to break with the PD and to support Rodotà as President of the Republic. He has announced that he will create a ’constructive and responsible’ opposition to Letta and planned to launch on 8 May a new ’workshop’ of the left, seeking to gather the right of the RC and certain renegades from the PD.

To the left of the RC, Cremaschi, former number two of FIOM now retired has launched a new appeal for an ’anti-capitalist and libertarian movement’, with half the forces that belonged to ’No debito’. (ControCorrente did not belong to it, only maintaining discussions with them.)

ALBA (’Alliance of work, public assets and the environment’) continues to propose a ’new political force’, but is run by a handful of intellectuals, deprived of any social base, of an organised force and of a clear political programme.

The secretary of Rifondazione, Ferrero, resigning after the disastrous election, but in charge until the next congress (fixed with great calm for the end of the year), leads an already virtual party by means of his own Facebook page, commentating on the on the initiatives of others and often giving advice to Grillo on the tactics to use against the PD, which Grillo wisely does not follow. Inside the RC, without his own independent political project, Ferrero follows ALBA with interest, one part of his people have joined Cremaschi’s appeal, while the right tries to have a dialogue with Vendola.

The Communist Party of Workers, the only list with the Hammer and Sickle – a symbol which always has a certain appeal for us – at the elections reached an historic low. Critical Left – the Italian section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, is living through the nth split in the name of the movements. Falce Martello – the section of the International Marxist Tendency, is enthusiastically preparing for a congress in which Ferrero’s centre and the right will be fighting over the mortal remains of the RC.

For the Italian left a real ’trek across the desert’ is starting. The absence of a generalised social response to the offensive of big capital renders the current proposals ’to rebuild the left’ pathetic attempts to put together bits of the political and trade union bureaucracy without a clear political idea and incapable of exercising an attraction for workers and young people, all to the advantage of Grillo.

These leaders, always ready to quote Gramsci (usually incorrectly), instead of putting themselves on the terrain of a ’struggle for hegemony’ over ordinary sectors of Grillo’s electorate, run after him, one day exalting him and the next accusing him of being fascist. On the other side, in a country that has had the biggest Communist Party in western Europe and a lively extra-parliamentary left, against the background of a stagnation of the class struggle and of the crisis of the trade unions, a generation of activists over 40 are living with the feeling of being orphans of the past and don’t manage to be a point of reference for the youngest. With the result that the best part of the activists tend to distribute themselves in a casual way amongst the various discussion tables on the left or limiting themselves to waiting for something to happen.

Only an unfreezing, at least partial, of class conflict can unblock the situation, bring into politics new forces and restore enthusiasm to the old militants. The shock represented in the nth compromise between the centre -right and the centre-left by the definitive loss of credibility of the PD and in bourgeois democracy itself, the new wave of anti-people policies that await us could make millions of people understand that nothing remains but to struggle, relying only on our own forces. It would be necessary to try and rebuild with our own hands what the leaders of the left have destroyed: a party capable of giving a voice, programme and organisation to workers and ordinary people in society.

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