Italy: A crisis of the system – an assessment of the elections of February 24/25

A crisis of the system is what emerges from the Italian elections of February 24/25. The Wall Street Journal reveals the concerns of the international bourgeoisie when it says that, “So far as the market is concerned, the Italian elections have produced the worst possible outcome.” Rather alarmed is also the Financial Times which published an editorial statement on February 26 with the title, “Italy takes a step into the unknown.”

European national governments, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, together with the international media are all calling in unison for a “stable government”. The problem is that no one can guarantee such a government: the bourgeoisie no longer has a party that can guarantee such stable government. The election result has instilled real terror among the powers-that-be from Brussels to London, from Berlin to Washington.

The Democratic Party, which only a few weeks ago seemed so sure of victory, lost three and a half million votes compared to 2008 and won the Lower House only by a whisker. The biggest loser was, however, Monti and his “civil list”. The “professor”, when he resigned and opened the way for early elections, believed that the dream of the ruling class of this country of the last sixty years – of creating a direct political expression of the bourgeoisie that could be the faithful instrument for the implementation of its policies – would finally come true.

Given the enormous media hype and backing of high ranking bourgeois figures, Monti’s election result (10.56% in the Lower House) was quite disappointing. What is even more interesting to note is that of his votes for the Lower House (1,924,281), over 40% (812,136) were concentrated in the North-West and only a very small part in the South. In the process Monti swallowed up the votes of long standing parties such as Casini's UDC, which falls below two per cent. [The UDC, the Union of Christian Democrats, was one of the fragments that emerged from the collapse of the old Christian Democracy]. Monti’s “party of the loden coat”, i.e. of the middle class professionals, only managed to establish a relationship almost exclusively with the middle to high bourgeois layers in the wealthiest area of Italy, but failed completely to have any impact among the millions of people who are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

Monti, speaking last month on Leading against the odds. Photo: Remy Steinegger/ WEFMonti, speaking last month on Leading against the odds. Photo: Remy Steinegger/ WEFThere is now a widespread campaign to use the results to try to prove the ignorance of the Italian people, who supposedly vote on the right [Berlusconi] and for “anti-politics” [Grillo], i.e. a docile population that understands nothing and that is not worthy of the refined culture of reformist and liberal progressives who dream of emigrating to other more civilized countries

The truth, however, is very different as the figures demonstrate. The PDL [Berlusconi’s party] lost six and a half million votes in the space of five years. The Northern League has lost 1,600,000 votes. Both parties see their votes halved. The same applies to the extreme right wing (including the party of Storace, named “La Destra”, which means The Right) which sees its votes fall from one million to about 400,000 votes.

There was therefore no “recovery of the right wing”; rather what we see is that Berlusconi simply managed to halt his decline that until a few months ago seemed unstoppable. It is the Centre-Left that lost the elections of February 24/25.

This vote is the result of 15 months of a caretaker “national unity” government which saw all the main parties in parliament voting together en bloc in favour of severe attacks on the rights and working conditions of the working class, in healthcare, education, and welfare in general. It is a reflection of the fact that there are eight million people who are destitute, two million children living in poverty, the unemployment rate that is now 12%, and of the fact that four million workers only have temporary jobs that pay a mere 800 euros per month (on average).

A vote against austerity

The truth is that on 24 and 25 February millions of workers and youth voted against the austerity policies, against the Europe of sacrifices, against the Troika.

Bersani, leader of the PD. Photo: Rémi Désert/ Parti socialisteBersani, leader of the PD. Photo: Rémi Désert/ Parti socialisteIt is undeniable that Silvio Berlusconi managed to win back and consolidate his electorate as he could see this sentiment was very much present among the wider population. He distanced himself from Monti, leaving him with Bersani to defend the policies of the outgoing government, and at the same time developed an anti-euro and anti-IMU campaign. [IMU is the new hefty local council tax introduced by Monti, and which is hated by most people]. This brought back into the fold of the PDL sections of the middle classes.

The Democratic Party took upon itself the role of guarantor of the austerity policies of yesterday, today and tomorrow. This party was chosen by the markets and by much of the international bourgeoisie for this purpose, and Bersani has now paid dearly for this. Bersani centred his whole election campaign on the spectre of Berlusconi. He said he would “remove the spots from the leopard”. As the results demonstrate, however, the Italian masses have other more urgent problems to deal with.

Should we regret the fact that the traditionally left-wing electorate has abandoned the more traditional “democratic” parties? Not at all! It is a necessary step and the fact that so many have abandoned the longstanding logic of the “useful vote” is the beginning of a move towards a greater and more advanced awareness. [Note: the so-called “useful vote” meant voting for those parties one believed had a chance of winning and not for those one really agreed with, but were felt to be so marginal as to have no possibility of winning.]

The Democratic Party will continue to portray itself as the party of rigour and one that is reliable as far as the ruling class is concerned. Bersani has explicitly said, “We do not shirk from our responsibilities.” As the spread on Italian bonds continues to increase and as they fell the pressure of the market, they will try to form a government. Yesterday Bersani suggested a government of “non-no-confidence” to Grillo’s Five Stars Movement (M5S). By this is meant a government that the Five Stars Movement would not vote against. Other members of the PD, such as D'Alema and Veltroni are pushing for a “governissimo”, a grand coalition, with Berlusconi’s PDL and with Monti.

None of these are easily achievable options. The crisis will be prolonged, and the government which will eventually be formed will be a weak one. And, in any case, the programme of such a government has already been drawn up by the international bourgeoisie.

It is highly unlikely that Vendola, leader of the SEL [and a former leader of the right wing of Rifondazione Comunista], who managed to get back into Parliament, will be able to move the Democratic Party to the left, especially since his party only managed to scrape together 3.1% in the elections. This low vote means his party is dependent on the Democratic Party to stay in parliament!

In this context the idea of “conditioning” the Centre-Left, that leaders of the CGIL [General Confederation of Labour] and the FIOM [Metalworkers’ Union] had put forward, has also been shown to be false. In the coming months there is in fact no possibility whatsoever for even the most timid demands of the CGIL’s “Labour Plan”, launched by the general secretary Camusso, to be included in the programme of the government. In fact, the Democratic Party will demand that the leadership of the CGIL behaves responsibly, even more so now that the secretary of the Democratic Party could become the Prime Minister.

The success of the Five Stars Movement

The result of the elections is a massive vote against austerity, and it is certainly true that Grillo and his Five Stars Movement were able to fill the enormous void that has been created on the left. It is now the largest party in the Lower House, with close to 8,700,000, 25.5% of the total.

Grillo at a rally in Rome last week. Photo: aleanz77Grillo at a rally in Rome last week. Photo: aleanz77The success of M5S demonstrates that the media are not omnipotent, that consciousness can grow and change suddenly. It is certainly a slap in the face to all those pessimists within the labour movement who constantly moan about the fact that “Nothing will ever change.”

To see what is really happening it is worth looking at an interesting survey (published in Il Manifesto on February 26) carried out by the Censis research centre among those who participated in Grillo’s final public election campaign rally in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome:

“48% of [Grillo’s] electorate say they feel estranged from the traditional parties, while 32.7% declare themselves to be on the left, 7.9% on the centre-left, and 10% on the right or centre-right. (...) The biggest number comes from those who had previously abstained (27.5%), followed by former voters of the Democratic Party (25.3%), there are also those who used to vote for the IDV [the party led by the famous judge Di Pietro who led the “clean hands” investigation into corruption in the 1990s] (14.5% ) and former PDL [Berlusconi] voters (10.5%), and a smaller percentage, of 5%, are ex-voters of the Rainbow Left [a left coalition, which included Rifondazione Comunista]”

The conclusion one has to draw from this is very clear, the mass of people gathered in the square in Rome to listen to Grillo, and in all the others that he filled across the whole of Italy during the election campaign, could have been won by the left and must be won back to the left.

The way Grillo won this vote was very simple. There exists in Italy, as in the rest of Europe, huge anger and dissatisfaction among the mass of people against the existing political parties, and more generally against the system as a whole.

Many young people and workers think that the right, the centre and the left are all substantially the same thing. And we have to state clearly that, as far as the leaders of these parties are concerned, they are right. They carry out the same policies, attend the same conferences, and participate in the same TV chat shows. Grillo issued a very clear slogan, which reflects what many people think, “All of them must go.” He made this the central slogan of his campaign and he plastered the walls of every town with posters carrying this slogan. The slogans of the “radical” left on the other hand were “Courage” and “Change” written above the image of a magistrate just arrived in Italy from Central America at the last minute. [Note: This refers to Ingroia, a magistrate who took part in anti-Mafia investigations in the past and recently was involved in a UN anti-narcotics investigation in Guatemala. At the end of December last year he decided to head the Civil Revolution coalition in the elections.]

The Five Stars Movement made its own some key demands of social movements of the past few years, such as those of the “No Tav” in Valsusa (where Grillo get almost 40%). [The “No-Tav” is the movement against the building of a high-speed railway line through the Valsusa, on the French border, which saw huge mobilisations over a long period of time, with violent clashes with the police, and in which the bulk of the local population was involved]. He also made his own the demands of the “No-Muos” movement in Sicily [a mass opposition movement against the plan to buid a new US military radar base in Niscemi, Sicily] and those of the movement against the privatisation of water. In Sicily in fact he doubled his votes compared to the regional elections in October last year, winning 30%. And he mixed all this together with a generic line against the “caste” [all the main politicians that have dominated Italian politics for years] and with a call for the protection of small and medium sized enterprises. Grillo says that it is corruption which hampers the “honest” capitalists.

Given its populist and petty-bourgeois nature, it is easy to see why the M5S defines itself as being “neither of the right nor of the left,” why it attacks the trade unions and why it does not see the anti-fascist struggle as one of its priorities. It is characteristic of all political formations of this type, which are controlled by one individual. He centralises all powers on himself, the leader, creates an empathy with the masses, and builds up his support by giving an expression to, and amplifying, the prejudices that are present among the audience that is listening to him.

It is a movement that is full of contradictions and will not be able to find a lasting stability and it will be put to the test very quickly. The entry of 162 of its activists into parliament is definitely a turning point. But we must also remember that Grillo has no principled opposition to taking part in government. His party does so in the city of Parma, where the mayor of the city belongs to the M5S, and where in recent weeks it has been carrying out a programme of cuts in social services to “sort out” the finances of the local council. In Sicily the party is providing external support to the regional governor Rosario Crocetta of the Democratic Party.

The movement will swing left and right in an abrupt and violent manner, and we cannot predict exactly when all its inner contradictions will come to the surface, but we can be sure that they will surface at some point. Our criticisms of the programme of the M5S must be relentless, but it should be centred on the class issues, which are completely missing.

Future events will be decisive for the M5S and the real “litmus test” will be the explosion of the class struggle. The protest vote was concentrated on Grillo’s movement also because there has not been a generalized mass movement, such as that of the indignados in Spain or of Syntagma Square in Greece which connected with a wave of struggles of the working class. A mobilization that brings class conflict to the centre stage of politics in Italy will inevitably lead to a deep crisis within the M5S.

Does the left no longer exist?

The fact that in Greece the electoral earthquake came after the social earthquake, while in Italy the opposite has occurred, does not free the leaders of the left and the labour movement from their big responsibilities.

Since the historical 2008 defeat of the Rainbow Left and up to today they have remained on the side-lines, not preparing either for the future class struggles or for the elections. Some decided to hitch themselves directly to the Democratic Party’s electoral coalition, such as Vendola’s SEL. Others at times have found themselves accidentally (and reluctantly) in the role of alternative to the Centre-Left but even then only seeing in this a means of “negotiating” with the Democratic Party at a later stage.

Election poster of the left allianceIn this context, the Ingroia campaign touched on the ridiculous. At times they were frantically seeking an alliance with Bersani, while at others they were blaming the weakness of the Centre-Left on the fact that it had not accepted a coalition with Ingroia’s Civil Revolution list!

The result of the Civil Revolutionlist (a coalition of the PRC, PDCI, Di Pietro’s IDV, Italy of Values, and Greens) represents the lowest point in the history of Rifondazione Comunista. Winning only 765,000 votes (2.2%) it is even worse than the result of the Rainbow Left in 2008 (1,120,000 votes,3.1%).

What was most disconcerting was the platform of the list which contained no reference either to the left or to the labour movement. Its candidate for prime minister was a magistrate, Antonio Ingroia and the programme was watered down to a list of “anti-neoliberal” clichés and legalistic terminology that has been very fashionable among the anti-Berlusconi camp in recent years.

Civil Revolution emerged therefore with the profile of the party of the judges, or at most of the “honest party of the left”. Ingroia also tried to get a pact with Bersani, who rejected him. In fact, despite what Ingroia said, he was not opposed to being part of a future Centre-Left government.

To put it bluntly, it was a real disaster for the PRC that lost what remaining support it had within the working class. The vote for Ingroia’s Civil Revolution list was consistently between 2and 2.5% throughout the country, reducing it to an irrelevant force in Italian politics.

The present leadership of the PRC has thus sacrificed almost everything of what little credibility it still had in the desperate attempt to ride on the back of an insignificant magistrate, with absolutely devastating effect.

On the other hand, the leadership of the FIOM (the militant metalworkers’ union) – who after the big October 16, 2010 demonstration, had become a point of reference for all the advanced layers and even for a section of the wider masses – chose to withdraw from the front line, limiting their action to getting a small number of its members onto the lists of the Centre-Left.

The result of this failure is there for all to see. Our political tendency [FalceMartello] has been practically the only one in recent years that has defended in an organized manner the need for a left class alternative both to the Centre-Left and the Centre-Right, and also to the M5S, to carry out an anti-capitalist and revolutionary programme.

Now there are those who talk of a disaster and the final defeat of the left. We strongly oppose this type of reasoning. The labour movement and the left are not finished and will continue to exist so long as there is class conflict in society.

On a global scale the wind of revolution is blowing stronger than ever. In Tunisia, the Islamist-led government was forced to resign after a massive general strike, which marked the beginning of the second revolution. Europe is being shaken by mass movements, from France to Spain, from Portugal to Bulgaria, where a mass movement against rising electricity prices and other austerity measures has brought down the government.

In Italy the situation is characterized today by a deep division at the top of the ruling class. Lenin (who understood something about such matters) explained how the splits within the bourgeoisie are often the prelude to a revolutionary crisis.

It is possible that the process of growing awareness and the development of generalized mobilisations may be temporarily delayed by the impasse caused by the present crisis of the political system. However, this should not scare us or make us impatient. A delay could even allow for a greater understanding on the part of the working class of the utter bankruptcy of all the options put in place by the bourgeoisie and would thus lead to an even bigger explosion of class conflict.

Today the bourgeoisie is desperately seeking a way out from this crisis of governability. But this is nothing compared to the panic that will grip them when what will become ungovernable will be the factories and the streets of this country, once the masses enter the political scene. It is this perspective that we have to prepare for. And it is from this that a working class left-wing movement will emerge.

Source: FalceMartello (Italy)