Italian Elections Bring Far Right to Power

The article which follows is a translation from Battaglia Comunista, paper of our sister organisation in Italy. Its title refers to the slogan that Giorgia Meloni, leader of the ultra-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d'Italia) party, repeated throughout the electoral campaign: “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am a Christian”. She will now become Italy’s first female prime minister but has hardly had a resounding victory.

The Italian ruling class has been in turmoil for some time but especially since the 2008 financial crisis. In this sense it is little different to anywhere else. Every state around the world is in crisis brought about by decades of trying to manage an economic system in visible decline. Since the 2008 financial meltdown the options open to the various states are even more limited. Today the fallout from the pandemic, the consequences of the war in Ukraine and galloping inflation have added to the massive debt problems facing global capitalism.

Oddly enough Draghi, the “technocratic” Prime Minister who as head of the European Central Bank had famously stated that he “would do what it takes” to save the system in the face of the bursting of the speculative bubble in 2008, had a 65% approval rating in opinion polls. And this despite the protests against the draconian measures he brought in to control the Covid-19 pandemic. His “national government” of nearly all political parties collapsed only because the Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle) walked out in an attempt to win back lost support by posing as the only party worried about the cost of living crisis.

Draghi will be replaced by Meloni. The Brothers of Italy that she leads, the name taken from the Italian national anthem, includes supporters of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano) of the past but Meloni has downplayed this to win wider support than the 4% the party enjoyed at the previous election. Like right wing parties elsewhere she has campaigned largely against the “woke” issues which so much of the capitalist left took on years ago, when it abandoned the pretence that it offered anything for the working class. Even so, the Brothers of Italy won only 26% of the vote and so only 1 in 6 of those eligible to vote chose Meloni. Furthermore, most of her votes came from the collapse of her right wing partners in Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Salvini’s Lega (who got only 8 and 9% each). It was hardly a ringing endorsement especially given the low turnout. One of the minor ironies of the election is that Meloni is likely to be made Prime Minister a few days before the centenary of Mussolini’s “March on Rome” in 1922.

However, as the article makes clear, Meloni is not Mussolini. And as the article also argues the holders of capital can sleep well. In promising to scrap the Five Star Movement's signature issue, the citizen’s income, she has already cut hundreds of euros from the income of the low paid or those on the derisory benefits Italy pays to the unemployed.

In looking at the likes of Johnson, Putin, Meloni and Truss, bourgeois commentators lament the current lack of good leaders. In doing so they don’t see that what is lacking are real solutions to the problems of capitalism. With no good solutions the most ridiculous can appeal to a confused electorate who think that everything else has been tried.

In the UK, Liz Truss has become Prime Minister without an election, without even the confidence of most MPs in her own party. Elected by 80,000 mainly rich men in South East England, promising them tax cuts, she has already demonstrated that she is a fully paid up member of the Tory far right. The Brothers of Italy may turn out a lot less vicious towards the working class than Truss and Kwarteng. The latter have form. Both are members of the Free Enterprise group of Conservative MPs. This produced the book Britannia Unchained which contained the memorable observation that British workers are “among the worst idlers in the world”. The Tory right have been screaming for decades for more deregulation (that’s what the “unchained” means), fewer workers’ rights and a reduction of the state (which also would mean speeding up the privatisation of the NHS which has been going on for decades under both Labour and Tory). With Truss in number 10 they have arrived at the top table. Kwarteng lost no time in bringing in a mini-budget to cut taxes for the rich (when most households face massive new bills), and refused to let the Office for Budget Responsibility cost his plans The result was the collapse of the pound to almost parity with the dollar and it would have been worse had the Bank of England not issued £65 billions of government bonds to save pension funds (the UK’s biggest investors) who had made bad bets. Only several u-turns in less than 48 hours prevented further damage (and avoided the humiliation of defeat in Parliament). It is unlikely, as this article suggests, that Meloni will make the same mistake.

However, the common thread is that no government in power has control over what is happening. The capitalist system is now trapped between raising interest rates to try to calm inflation and then watch as indebted unprofitable companies face repayments they can no longer meet. Add to that the abandonment of even the pretence of tackling climate change and the threat of generalised imperialist war the capitalist system is now a serious threat to humanity. The working class across the world is beginning to wake up to the fact that current existence is unsustainable but not yet to the fact that it is the capitalist system (and not just this or that government) which has to go.

"My Name is Giorgia" ... And Capital Can Rest Assured

The 2022 elections are finally over. The only good news is that for a while we will no longer have to pay attention to the parade of "snake oil sellers" egging each other on in an attempt to ensnare an increasingly pissed off, angry and confused audience, with their merchandise made up of their false promises and magnificent feats, past and future.

One thing these elections confirm, if it were still needed, it is that while we can all vote, each of us with the best of intentions, in this society some votes weigh more heavily than those that get counted.(1)

There are those who only have a vote in the ballot, and those who have an extra vote by controlling capital, the workforce, and technologies. Those who can only put an X on a ballot paper and hope that their life will be given some consideration, and those who can finance parties, newspapers or television channels by making a phone call or at the press of a button, or perhaps making money by speculating on the price of raw materials. There are different ways of voting, but they are not all equally effective.

To put it plainly, even if this is not accompanied by the political understanding and willingness to fight that we would like, the perception of the uselessness of the vote is gaining ground. The number of potential voters who did not go to the polls exceeds 16 million, more than one in three Italians.(2) The phenomenon is directly proportional to the absence of economic prospects so is higher in the most depressed regions of Italy but even in the richer areas the trend is increasing. We reiterate this, however, in order to avoid misunderstandings. We are not interested in politically appropriating abstention as if it were in itself a positive result: if abstention remains a simple rejection of the vote it can simply mean no more than resignation, apathy and sometimes indifference.(3) Abstention has value for us only if it is accompanied by a willingness to fight for a society not condemned to class divisions and exploitation. In a society not divided into opposing classes we would be for the vote and the highest possible participation.(4)

Having said that, let's try to draw some conclusions from the current electoral round. The outcome was obvious in advance as the polls had pictured the situation accurately. The only party in the centre-right coalition that was not part of the national unity government led by Draghi, won. This is symptomatic because for some years now, alongside growing abstentionism, there has been a very strong popular consensus favouring parties that appear as "anti-system", even if they are not anti-system.

Over the past five years, we have witnessed the mixed fortunes, first of the Five Star Movement which peaked in 2018 but collapsed a few months later, then the Lega which followed the same path, and now the Brothers of Italy. As we saw in the weeks before the elections, much of the street fighting language of its origins has moderated itself and become institutionalised as it approaches power, and how Meloni has begun to sound more like Draghi himself in matters of economic policies, the budget, foreign policy, etc., the feeling is that this may soon become the fate of the current winners as well.

However, we don’t know yet, since the future cannot be predicted, not even in the short term. What we do know is that this government will face a very difficult situation. This is due, on the one hand to the consequences of the war, starting with worsening of inflation and the energy crisis, and on the other to the economic crisis that preceded the war, of which it is the cause, and which for decades has been undermining the foundations of present-day society. We cannot say now which path the crisis will take in the short term, but it is likely that it will accelerate. Today's winners will also be able to play their game on an ideological level, banging on about Italian identity, the defence of traditional family values, etc., and on the persecution of immigrants it views as a threat to Italians, but on the economy they will have very few options, and even those will be a risky gamble for those who lack the experience of political cadres at this level. This is likely to make them even less inclined to distance themselves too far from the current ruling class and its notables.

The part of the political programme of Giorgia Meloni's party which can be achieved without major disturbances is a revision of the citizens’ income(5), which will just be limited to the current categories. It will remain to be seen if, and how many, of the available resources will be allocated to the promised reduction of the tax burden for employees. Perhaps some small concession will be given to be paid for later with a cut in social spending, so that the game will be a zero-sum, if not a negative, one.

A far more likely prospect is some measure that goes in the direction of the so-called flat tax, which was a particular favourite of the other two centre-right formations that played a shameless game on this.

Reducing taxes for the rich is, as we know, the new frontier of a capitalism that has already tried everything to revive profit rates: relocation of production, wage cuts, precarity, plus cuts in pensions and social spending. Now there is no beating about the bush: "the rich must do well so the rest of society can do better", and if Adam Smith himself didn't say it, someone else must have said it. Wealth proceeds like the holy spirit from top to bottom, and if it does not reach the bottom, it is because there is not enough at the top.

On foreign policy it is likely that nationalism, or "sovereignty" if you prefer, will dissolve in a more docile and accommodating position of equilibrium with the European Union: these are not times in which one can get too smart with international alliances and purse strings – that is, the billions from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (6) and the protections from speculative attacks – only reach those who behave themselves. The first impression is that for Giorgia too, in a certain sense … the “free ride” has already ended.(7)

For those who, on the other hand, have never had any free ride, the same old issues never go away. Either the proletariat (that’s who we are talking about) manages to shake off the paralysing sense of defeat and resignation, the result of decades of bourgeois attacks – of all kinds – and begins to respond with mass struggle, or it will continue to play the role of guinea pig for the increasingly violent "experiments" that the bourgeoisie puts in place to vainly try to escape from its historic crisis. Only the resumption of working class struggle can breathe oxygen and fresh vigour into the small minorities who, amidst immense difficulties, are trying to forge the party of the international revolution, an indispensable tool for winning a new world incomparably better than the current one.

Battaglia Comunista
29 September 2022


(1) This definition of the vote comes from a statement by Enrico Cuccia, a powerful investment banker in Italy. he once said that “in the Italian stock market, you have to weigh votes [by which he meant shares] rather than just count them”, because someone could control a company with a very small share if it was in the hands of the right people, so in this sense votes are not equal, some weigh more than others, even if formally they are all the same. Italy was then a protected financial market, protected from foreign capital, so a few families, Agnelli, Pirelli etc., could control most of the economy with a relatively small financial holding.

(2) According to the Ministry of the Interior only 63.79% (29.3 million of Italy’s 46 million registered electors) voted. It is a new low.

(3) The Italian word is “qualunquismo” or “whatever-ism”. It derives from a short-lived political movement founded in 1944 by G. Giannini with a newspaper called "L'Uomo Qualunque" (lit. The Anyone Man), which, based on the discontent of the petty bourgeoisie, opposed the political-institutional structure that emerged from the Resistance and advocated a purely administrative vision of state management, thus posing a critique of parliamentary democracy; it only lasted two years.

(4) It goes without saying that the future representative bodies of the working class will be infinitely more democratic than those of parliamentary democracy since they will give voters the right of immediate recall of those they delegate (and no waiting for 5 or so years to replace a deficient “representative”).

(5) The favoured policy of the Five Star Movement which provoked the fall of the Draghi government for which their vote fell to just over 15%.

(6) Worth €200 billion in grants and loans until 2026.

(7) Meloni began by asserting that the EU had been given a “free ride” but that would be finished if the Brothers of Italy took over, yet the anti-EU rhetoric diminished the higher they went in the polls.

Thursday, October 6, 2022