Hard right wins general election in Italy

Photo collage of Italian right wing politicians Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi and Giorgia Meloni (Photo: Scia Della Cometa/Wikimedia/CC)

As predicted, the right-wing coalition of Brothers of Italy (FdI), Lega, and Forza Italia won the general election in Italy – with 44% of the vote, writes Christine Thomas. The ‘post-fascist’ FdI, led by Giorgia Meloni, was the biggest party with 26%, up from the 4% it got in 2018, and she is now likely to become prime minister.

This victory does not, however, represent a new ‘March on Rome’, when fascist Mussolini came to power in Italy almost exactly 100 years ago. There are fascists in the FdI – one was suspended during the election campaign for calling Adolf Hitler a “great statesman”- and the FdI has its roots in the fascist MSI, but it is a right-wing nationalist party, not a fascist one.

Nor has there been a massive shift to the right electorally. The right-wing coalition took just 7% more of the vote than in 2018. Instead, there has been a re-arranging of the deckchairs within the coalition. Salvini’s right-wing populist Lega was routed, with almost half of its ex-voters going over to Meloni – the Lega got just 9% this time – including in its former strongholds in the north. With only 63% of the electorate bothering to vote, a big drop from nearly 73% in 2018, in a country that traditionally had very high turn-outs, there was clearly little enthusiasm for anything on offer. The FdI benefited from being the only party that remained outside of Mario Draghi’s ‘national unity’ government, and was seen widely as the ‘last resort’ – the only main party that hasn’t yet been tested and failed.

The Democratic Party, which long ago ditched its left-wing legacy from the Communist Party, becoming completely pro-capitalist, could only manage 19% of the vote. The populist Five Star Movement, the biggest party in 2018, saw its score halve to 15%. Its vote did hold up in parts of the South as it tried to present a more left face on economic and social issues, in particular defending its ‘citizens’ income’ – an unemployment benefit that is too low but still important for the poorest sections of society, and which Meloni has said she will scrap. In reality, there was no credible left-wing opposition in these elections. The small Unione Popolare, which grandiosely claimed that it could emulate Mélenchon’s NUPES in France, remained well below the 3% threshold necessary to get representation, on 1.4%.

A government of crisis from the outset

Given the dire economic background, this will be a government of crisis from the outset. No Italian government has lasted more than 18 months in the last three decades, and this one is unlikely to do any better. While the coalition parties are in agreement on attacking immigrants and defending ‘family values’ against the ‘LGBT lobby’, and curbing the ‘globalist left’ – which they define as including the trade unions – there are deep divisions over Ukraine, with Salvini opposing sanctions and Meloni supporting them, and on the budget. Salvini has called for €30 billion to help with the cost-of-living and energy crisis, while Meloni is urging ‘fiscal discipline’. She complained during the election that Salvini spent more time arguing with her than with the opposition.

There is no doubt that a Meloni government will attempt to crack down even harder on immigration, creating a hostile climate for those in the country, which has already led to immigrants being attacked and killed. While Meloni has said that she won’t overturn the 1978 abortion law, it is likely that further restrictions will be introduced to make it more difficult to get an abortion, as has already happened in the Marche region, which the FdI controls. Similarly, she probably won’t seek to reverse the legalisation of civil unions for same-sex couples, but attacks on ‘gender ideology’ in schools – i.e. non-discriminatory sex and relationship education – will intensify, making it more difficult for LGBT young people to express or feel confident about their sexuality or identity, and other discrimination will remain.

Working-class and sections of middle-class Italians are desperately looking for relief to the cost-of-living nightmare. But they are not likely to find it from a Meloni-led government. She has promised to introduce both tax cuts and higher spending on pensions and families. But with the second highest public debt in the world, at 150% of GDP, and an economy that has barely grown over the last 20 years, any attempt to do both could provoke the wrath of the financial markets – as Tory Prime Minister Truss in Britain has very quickly discovered. A re-run of the 2010-11 euro crisis is entirely possible, with Italy rather than Greece at the centre this time.

In order for Italy to receive the rest of the €200 billion in Covid recovery money, the EU is demanding deregulation, privatisation, and more ‘competition’ in the public sector. To benefit from the EU’s new bond-buying scheme even more ‘conditions’ would be insisted on. Any attempt to introduce these anti-working class measures would provoke resistance from the trade unions, under pressure from workers already suffering from the cost-of-living crisis. In that situation, will Meloni refuse to implement the ‘reforms’ that are being demanded, leading to a ‘crisis of confidence’ in the markets, or cave in to the EU, risking a bigger backlash from the workers’ movement?

It’s urgent that the trade union and workers’ organisations, the women’s, LGBT, immigrants’ rights and other social movements organise now to resist the attacks on their rights and living standards that are on the way. This should include coming together to discuss how to build a left-wing political alternative, with the organisations of the working-class at its core. This can lay the basis for a future workers’ government and, learning the lessons of Syriza in Greece, with a fighting socialist programme that challenges the crisis-ridden capitalism system.

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September 2022