Elections in Italy

After the victory of the "Cavalier"

May 11, 2008

For the third time since 1994, Berlusconi is getting ready to take
office as Premier. At the head of a parliamentary coalition formed by
his historic allies, the "post-fascist" Fini, now a member of the new
party of Italian right-wingers, People of Freedoms (PdL), and Umberto
Bossi, from the ultra-racist Northern League, that got very good
results in the northern regions of the country, Berlusconi won the
early elections that were held on April 13 and 14.

This new victory by Berlusconi and the Italian right wing can only be
explained by the catastrophe that the preceding center-left government
led by Prodi represented for the popular strata and because the
Democratic Party (PD), the "moderate" center-left formation headed by
Walter Veltroni, that sought to separate itself not only from the
"Communists" but even from the lukewarm social democracy to emulate
the US Democratic Party, was practically indistinguishable from the
right wing.

The outcome of the elections also showed a strengthening of a
tendency toward a two-party system: 85% of the votes were polarized
between the PD that got 38% and the PdL that obtained 47%. This
reduced the number of political forces with parliamentary
representation. While this could be an element of stability in the
highly unstable system of Italian parliamentary government, the
alliance between Berlusconi and the Northern League could be broken,
if the Northern League, emboldened by all the votes it got, insists on
converting its "federalist" and xenophobic program, that seeks to
separate the prosperous north from the impoverished south of the
country, into reality.

Berlusconi, big businessmen and the European Union

Even knowing full well that a possible victory by Veltroni was a
difficult bet to win, the most concentrated sectors of Italian capital
and the big businessmen supported the center-left, however indirectly,
as they had openly done during the 2006 elections with Prodi. This
orientation was dictated by the greater pro-European and pro-employer
coherence of Veltroni’s entire plan and his exceptional relations with
the union bureaucracy. This is so because Berlusconi is no guarantee
for big businessmen that the economic and social "reforms" they are
demanding to recover profitability and solve the economic crisis that
is currently devastating the country, will be carried out. This
relative lack of trust in Berlusconi’s ability is owing to the fact
that during his two previous terms he was unable to move forward with
these measures. Not accidentally, Montezemolo, leader of the
employers’ federation Confindustria, is already pressuring Berlusconi,
stressing that all the conditions of "governability" to carry out the
policies of tightening up that the Italian capitalists are calling
for, are present.

In fact, for the big bourgeoisie, the biggest problem with
Berlusconi’s coalition is that the Cavalier himself [Berlusconi] and
his allies from the Northern League may permit the defense of some
particular, regional and even personal interests of sectors of the
bourgeoisie that Italian big capital does not recognize as its own.

To the European Union, Berlusconi and Bossi not only appear as a xenophobic and homophobic right wing that is not very serious, but also as a possible "danger" to the policies of fiscal discipline demanded by the Central European Bank, because of their election demagogy. With this policy, as in his more pro-US orientation, Berlusconi is probably seeking right-wing French President Nicolas Sarkozy as an ally. Apparently, Berlusconi will try to improve this image by naming as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, until now a Commissioner in the European Union, but at the same time, with good relations with the US.

To calm down the big businessmen, Berlusconi has already announced
that the Italians must be prepared to endure unpopular and difficult
measures.

The disaster of the reformist left

The Rainbow Left, headed by Fausto Bertinotti, suffered the biggest
collapse. This coalition, recently formed by Rifondazione Comunista
(PRC), the Italian Communists (PdCI), the Greens, and a sector of the
former Democrats of the Left (DS), only got 3%, which left it outside
of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, since it did not get the
minimum of 4% and 8%, respectively.

To assess the dimensions of the catastrophe that Rifondazione
Communista has suffered, let us recall that, until the most recent
elections, Bertinotti was the President of the Chamber of Deputies,
and that the parties that currently make up the Rainbow Left went from
having 38 Senators and 72 Deputies to lacking any representation in
the next legislature.

This election defeat of Rifondazione Comunista and its allies shows
the failure of the opportunist policies of the reformist left and of
those who were presenting Rifondazione as the model for "broad" and
"anti-capitalist" parties. Rifondazione paid a very high price for
joining the governing coalition of the Union and for its active
participation in Prodi’s bourgeois "center-left" administration, a
deeply anti-popular and pro-war government that not only failed to
withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan, but was one of the
architects of the current [UN] occupation of Lebanon (Mission Unifil
II). In this way, in a few months, Rifondazione Comunista squandered
its political capital, accumulated over years in the Italy of the big
general strikes and the impressive antiwar movement of the period
2001-2003.

Disenchantment with the candidates of Rifondazione left a relative
space for the left and allowed two Trotskyist groups, the Communist
Workers Party (PCL) and Sinistra Crítica, that contested the elections
for the first time as forces separate from Rifondazione Comunista, to
get 0.5% and 0.4% of the votes, respectively. Berlusconi’s victory
clearly expresses a turn to the right in the political situation. Even
the Northern League got a big portion of its votes from among sectors
of workers, who formerly voted for the PD center-left and are now
seeking the solution to the serious economic situation, in the right
wing, with its populist and demagogic propaganda.

But this does not mean that it is going to be a simple matter for
Berlusconi to govern and put his plans into practice, in spite of the
broad victory he got. Differences between the coalition partners could
erupt again, and the workers’ and popular mobilization that has
characterized Italy in recent years could revive from below.

In opposition to the earlier Berlusconi administration, the working
class led very big actions, like general strikes and the struggle
against the reform of Article 8 of the Labor Statute that introduced
uncertainly in employment. Young people also participated massively in
the gigantic antiwar movement.

In their time, those experiences were deflected by the false promises
of Prodi’s center-left, supported by Rifondazione Comunista. Now the
task is to prepare future struggles against Berlusconi and the right
wing, by drawing the conclusion that what is needed is an independent
workers’ politics and a truly revolutionary leftist alternative.

Translation by Yosef M.