There has been a series of new twists in the deepening Italian political crisis. Prime Minister Conte resigned after President Mattarella vetoed the appointment of Paolo Savona as minister of the economy. The president subsequently assigned the task of forming a government to [former IMF official] Carlo Cottarelli.
This turn in the situation is unexpected to say the least, and cannot be fully explained by parliamentary tactical games. Salvini [leader of the far-right League, formerly the Northern League] undoubtedly felt more uncomfortable in his alliance with the 5 Star Movement (M5S) and believed he could capitalise on new elections. For his part, [the Italian Republic’s President] Mattarella feared the prospect of a League-M5S government being in charge of drawing up the next state budget. By vetoing the appointment of Paolo Savona as minister, Mattarella succeeded in resuscitating the idea of a 'neutral government”, which he had already proposed without success a few weeks ago.
However, these calculations are founded on flimsy assumptions. Even the so-called “strong powers” (the serious wing of Italian capitalism) are worried about the effects of Mattarella's move. Confindustria [the bosses’ confederation] was already adjusting to the idea of building a relationship with the yellow-green [League-M5S] government, a relationship that certainly would not have been idyllic but which pragmatically the Italian capitalists thought they could rein in. Even French President Macron – a pillar of liberal and pro-European orthodoxy – had already made an informal telephone call to Conte proposing collaboration at a European level.
The ‘markets’ decide
The prospect of a League-M5S government scandalised the traditional, political left. However, this doesn’t change the fact that millions of people – with greater or lesser conviction – were anxious to see whether “changing everything” would allow for real measures to be taken on pensions, education, precariousness and poverty, and reversing the deep cuts of ten years of austerity policies.
Were these hopes misplaced? Absolutely. Were (and are) such hopes exploited for reactionary purposes, in particular by the League? This is also certain. But this does not negate the fact that millions of people voted on 4 March, hoping to improve their social conditions, firm in the belief that the Democratic Party (PD), Forza Italia and all the forces surrounding them had to be swept away in order for change to occur.
It is this hopefulness that has frightened the ruling class. Certainly they are not scared that Paolo Savona can bring down the euro. They are afraid of the ‘unreasonable hopes’ of tens-of-millions of people who have seen their lives worsen over a decade of crisis and who see no prospect of improvement. For the bosses the ‘people’ are to be trusted only as long as they accept their situation without protest, vote for the ‘right’ parties and respect the laws that enslave them. If the ‘people’ stop doing so they are immediately slandered and portrayed as an ignorant mass, preyed upon by populist demagogues.
Mattarella’s message on 27 May, reiterating the veto on Savona, was concentrated hypocrisy and arrogance, but was very clear on the central point. The ‘markets’, i.e. finance capital, decide. The spread [on state bonds] decides. The European Union decides. I decide, and you must accept.
The overwhelming majority of the left immediately prostrated itself and crawled at the feet of Mattarella who ‘rightly’ used his constitutional prerogatives.
And of course, that's true! The president acted in full compliance with the constitution and the law! And now we are waiting for the next lesson from the various “do-it-yourself constitutionalists” who, since the referendum lost by Renzi in 2016, have been joining in a chorus praising Italy’s as having the “world’s best” constitution. For them it is simply a matter of “implementing it”. These constitutional cretinists have been spreading such idiocies among the left for years. All of them should be locked up in a room for a year, forced to listen to Mattarella’s message and to write 100 times a day these important and simple words by the greatest revolutionary of the last century:
“The power of capital is everything, the stock exchange is everything, while parliament and elections are marionettes, puppets.” (Lenin, On the State, July 1919)
This applies not only to the ‘Mattarellian’ left: Bersani, Camusso, Speranza, Fassina, Fratoianni and company [Camusso is the leader of the CGIL trade union confederation and the others are leading figures of LEU, the “Liberi e Uguali” (Free and Equal) coalition]. The same also applies to the so-called far-left of “Potere al Popolo” (Power to the People), the PRC (Communist Refoundation Party) and all those who criticise Mattarella in the name of “democracy and the constitution.” It is also true for the FIOM (Metal workers’ union) national leaders who, not having the courage to state openly that they defend Mattarella, wax lyrical on the “balance and separation of powers being the lintel for the democratic stability of the country.”
Clash on the euro
Mattarella’s intervention has suddenly thrown the question of the euro and the European Union to the centre of the political battlefield. What are the reasons for this?
The European Union is in deep crisis. The banking crisis and that of sovereign debt were only anesthetized by the policies of Draghi who used the European Central Bank to flood the markets with interest-free money, massive purchases of public and private securities, etc. But these policies cannot be used indefinitely, particularly in the face of the opposite policy emerging now in the USA. Draghi’s mandate is close to expiring and it is widely believed that Germany will claim a successor who would not follow such expansive policies.
The Eurozone crisis has now passed from the economic to the political level. The pro-European parties struggle to maintain their electoral support, the interests of the different countries are diverging ever more clearly, problems accumulate without ever being resolved, from the question of the banks, to foreign policy, immigration, etc.
A substantial sector of the ruling class and their representatives decided to act not out of fear of Luigi Di Maio or Paolo Savona (let's not kid ourselves!), they did so because they reached the conclusion that a yellow-green government would have made the current precarious balance unsustainable – in particular in managing the huge Italian public debt and the ever-present banking crisis. If this were the case, we would be faced with a real qualitative leap in the crisis of the bourgeois political system in Italy and in Europe. Mattarella’s offensive becomes more understandable with this in mind.
Carlo Cottarelli is a trusted man of big capital and the Monetary Fund. But he is likely to preside over the least-authoritative government in the history of Italian politics. Even the Democratic Party (PD) leaders are bent-double at the unattractive prospect of an election campaign as the only party supporting a government whose prime minister has inscribed on his business card: “Former collaborator of Mario Monti – Specialist in cuts to social spending.”
Of course, they will devise everything to avoid precipitating new elections, and Di Maio seems willing to play along. The head of the M5S is now in favour of “starting the parliamentary committees” and an impeachment procedure against Mattarella, which would prevent the dissolution of Parliament [The president of the Republic is elected by parliament]. Di Maio seems in no hurry for new elections, and after a slap in the face like the one the M5S have just recieved, he has no desire to escalate the conflict, as evidenced by his carefully chosen words:
“We will organise events in the main Italian cities, walks, symbolic gestures, all that can be done peacefully to assert our right to determine our future. On 2 June, the Day of the Republic, I invite everyone to come to Rome.”
Walks and symbolic gestures… these are the proposals by the leader of the party with the highest number of votes, the day after he was prevented from forming a government! In the same message, Di Maio took care to reiterate that he never intends to take Italy out of the euro and that this was not Savona’s proposal.
All this reveals that the sense of hopefulness for meaningful change is actually frightening Di Maio as well. It is one thing to collect votes, quite another to call for the masses to mobilise for a real struggle against the masters of the system.
The tasks of the working-class left
In these 84 days, we have seen more than one plot twist, and it would be wrong to try and guess what other contortions could arise from the present political crisis. Instead, we must focus on fundamental facts and above all on our tasks.
The next elections, whenever they are, have been transformed by Mattarella’s intervention into a referendum on the European Union and the euro. Confindustria’s president, Boccia declared, the day after Conte resigned, that the exit from the euro is “inconceivable” and it would be “the end of the Italian economy.” They will try by all means to blackmail and frighten the electorate by threatening every sort of social and economic cataclysm in the event of defeat for the pro-EU parties. It is no coincidence that [the leader of the PD] Renzi is trying to get back into the arena as one of the leaders of the pro-EU front.
The left has dramatically shown once more to be unfit for the challenge. The position taken by the CGIL and FIOM national leaders in defence of Mattarella demonstrates once again that the trade union leaders are completely dissociated from the reality experienced by the workers and the trade-union rank and file. They don’t seem to have yet understood the vote of 4 March, and the only thing they can do is to desperately cling to the institutions and their counterparts in Confindustria. No useful initiative can come from this side, nor it will come from parties linked to the trade union bureaucracy like those of the LEU coalition.
It will not be easy to conquer a space for a class position in a clash that promises to be even more polarised than that of 4 March, but there are no shortcuts for getting around this obstacle. The working-class left must enter this dispute with a clear and unequivocal position: the break with the euro and the EU is an indispensable part of any program that seriously intends to defend the interests of the working class, the retired, the unemployed and young people.
This directly calls into question all the various forces on the left (PRC, Power to the People, [the mayor of Naples] De Magistris, etc.), who always turn to sophistries and formulas for compromise, such as proposals to “reform of the European treaties”, or “breaking” these treaties (meaning in reality renegotiation of these treaties with a capitalist European Union), or even defending sovereign positions [leaving the EU and returning to the pre-euro currency, the Lira, on a national capitalist basis].
Clarity on this point is indispensable for a political and ideological break with all the currents of the reformist left, which ultimately shares responsibility for creating this situation.
The political crisis is entering into a vicious circle, which shows graphically how the whole system is literally rotting from its foundations. It reveals the de-legitimisation of the institutions of the capitalist state, and that the ruling class is struggling to maintain its political control.
Millions of people have sought a solution by voting for parties who promise ‘change’, but have seen this road blocked. This enormous demand for change, and the rage that has been building up for years among the most exploited sectors of the population, is being compressed even more by a system that does not allow any way out. Eventually it is inevitable that it will explode in direct, mass mobilisations.
Only with this perspective will it be possible to work for the rebirth of a true, working-class left, of a party of the working class and all the exploited, which could lead them out of the impasse of a political and economic system in a state of senile decay.