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Elections in Italy amid Political Crisis: Interview with an Italian Socialist

The right wing is expected to win in Italy’s snap elections on Sunday. An Italian socialist explains the origins of the current political crisis, the rise of the right wing, and the tasks for the Left.

Left Voice

September 21, 2022
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Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni gives a speech, an Italian flag covers the podium
Image: Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis/Getty Images

On Sunday, September 25, Italians will head to the polls to elect a new government and parliament. The snap election comes two months after the fall of the Italian government and Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s resignation. The right-wing bloc, including the leading party Fratelli d’Italia under Giorgia Meloni, is widely expected to win. Left Voice’s Otto Fors interviewed Giacomo Turci, an editor at La Voce delle Lotte and a leader of the Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction (FIR) about the origins of this political crisis, the rise of the right wing, and the perspective that FIR is putting forward. 

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In July, the Italian government fell, and Prime Minister Mario Draghi stepped down. What were the immediate causes of this? And what were the deeper, more long-term causes?

First, it should be explained that the Italian political system is a parliamentary republic and that the prime minister is not directly elected by the citizens but must be voted in by Parliament. The same applies to the president (currently Sergio Mattarella), a more symbolic figure who is also elected by Parliament. The government can therefore fall if it does not have enough “confidence” votes to pass its proposed laws.

Draghi took office a year and a half ago, with the support of all parliamentary forces except the far-right party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI, Brothers of Italy). It was a “technocratic” government, but it had formed a pact with most of the other parliamentary parties, so much so that there were several ministers in his government who were not selected by Draghi. Otherwise, it was a government of technocrats. 

Draghi himself has a career divided between high finance and state bureaucracy. He was head of the European Central Bank (ECB) from 2011 to 2019, and he will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the public faces of the Greek people’s submission to austerity and of the Troika’s privatization policies. His government was based on a very heterogeneous coalition: it included the right wing, with Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini’s nationalist Lega (League) party; the populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, 5-Star Movement) party; and the Democratic Party (DP), which is partly made up of the social-liberal wing that once ruled the old Communist Party. 

The government depended on the fragile balance of this broad majority, and it further developed the elements of Bonapartism already prevalent in the past decade’s governments. The grand plan which all class sectors and their political parties were to support, the so-called “Draghi agenda,” simply had too little to concede to convince everyone.

If we want to pinpoint the immediate causes, one of them may seem very trivial, but it is real: Parliament was full of newly elected members who needed to stay in office at least four and a half years because this guaranteed them a lifetime income. In other words, they were responding to their own “political caste” interests.

The final crisis of the Draghi government began in late June, when a rift developed within the M5S. Luigi Di Maio, who was foreign minister in the Draghi government, opposed the leader of his own party, Giuseppe Conte. Conte questioned whether Italy should continue to send arms to Ukraine, and a group of M5S parliamentarians threatened to present a resolution in the Senate against the arms shipment. Di Maio, aligned with Draghi’s policies, broke with his own party and formed a new bloc, weakening the M5S.

This, in turn, deepened the divide between the M5S and Draghi. It should be remembered that this government has promoted a policy consistent with the need of big capitalists to appropriate new market share, favoring a strong upward redistribution of wealth at the expense of small shareholders. The main political consequence of this orientation was the isolation of the M5S, which tried to push through some economic measures that Draghi did not consider. Thus, the M5S abstained in a key vote in Parliament; then, a few days later, Draghi submitted his resignation to President Mattarella, who rejected it.

Draghi’s reaction to this crisis also led a part of the right wing to a no confidence vote, because it thought the government was too unstable to continue for another year (elections were scheduled for 2023). Thus, the government fell for good, there were no more realistic prospects for a new majority, and new elections were called for September 25.

Draghi’s coalition had been formed more than a year ago to provide a “top-down” solution to the political crisis in the name of “national unity.” How do you explain this confluence of far-right forces with others from the Center, neoliberals, etc.?

In Italy there have been strong elements of an overall crisis for years, in which different levels (economic, political, cultural) are linked. The Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci called this an organic crisis. Inflation exceeds 9 percent, NATO’s military efforts in Ukraine, the energy crisis, the drought, the still incomplete recovery after the peak of the pandemic — all of these have coalesced into a generalized crisis that objectively makes it difficult for the ruling class and the “governing” parties to convince the popular masses of their political projects. This repeatedly leads to new attacks on the living conditions of the great majority.

National elections are therefore proving ineffective at generating strong governing majorities that can survive for an entire five-year legislative term with relatively large popular support. There is, then, a tendency to form “technocratic” or coalition governments between parties that are actually historical enemies. This is also a way to exclude the potentially more subversive right-wing elements from Parliament by normalizing others. 

At the same time, there is an attempt to marginalize and weaken the radical Left to keep these sectors out of Parliament, and allow the government to pass laws undisturbed. The reality is that there is still no political project that can revitalize the governing parties’ strong hegemony over society: for at least a decade, the percentage of non-voters exceeds the support of any party, and around 35 percent of people are expected to abstain on Sunday. 

Italy is holding elections on Sunday, and the popularity of the Right and Far Right has grown. Who are Fratelli d’Italia and Giorgia Meloni, and why are they so popular? Is it likely that an extreme right-wing government will be elected?

Yes, the latest polls gave the right-wing coalition a lead of about 20 points over the Center Left; it is clear that it will be this coalition that wins the election. The formation of the government will be a more complex matter that depends first of all on the seats actually obtained in Parliament: we could have a government majority that is partly different from the one that won the vote.

As for the Right, there was an attempt to unite all, or almost all, of it in one party, the Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom). After the failure of this attempt, much of the right wing is still organized into three parties: Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Salvini’s Lega (which has a more nationalist profile than its origins, in which it advocated for the secession of northern Italy), and Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia. These have been able to maintain their alliance in virtually every election since 2018, often winning and confirming that they are a relative majority in the country.

Fratelli d’Italia was born in 2013 as an alliance of leaders in central and southern Italy to rebuild a far-right party after the crisis of its previous party, Alleanza Nazionale, heir to the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI, Italian Social Movement), which was an openly pro-fascist party. Giorgia Meloni represents the victory of the sector that has its strongholds in Rome, where Meloni grew up, and in its region, Lazio. This party strongly resembles that of Marine Le Pen in France, but it has a more pro-NATO profile and fewer ties to Russia, unlike Lega, which is now trying to shed its former political sympathies. 

A characteristic feature of FdI is that it is handily replacing the old Christian Democrats and Forza Italia as the party of choice for sectors of the Mafia in the center-south, while in the north it is growing mostly by winning sectors that had supported Lega for the past five years. FdI’s winning bet has been to openly claim a Catholic-nationalist profile of clear opposition to the Draghi government. Part of the social discontent has thus flowed into support for this party.

The competition between Lega and FdI for the role of the leading center-right party led Meloni, leader of FdI, to adopt less radical positions closer to the neoliberal-Atlanticist consensus, but to remain in opposition to Draghi, claiming the need for a less “pro-European” political agenda and calling for general elections to end the years of governments totally unrepresentative of the will of the people. This position has proved fruitful, as FdI has steadily risen to first place in the polls with over 24 percent of the vote.

It should be kept in mind that even after the fall of the Christian Democrats and the MSI, there is an important part of the population that identifies with conservative policies and is influenced by Catholic culture, including that associated with the 20-year fascist period.

What perspective are the Revolutionary Internationalist Fraction (FIR) and La Voce Delle Lotte putting forward in the current crisis and in the election?

First, we say that the struggle against inflation, against war and its consequences, and against the imperialist rearmament policies of the Italian state and NATO must be at the center in the coming period. And it also seems clear that the key to profound change lies in the mobilization and self-organization of broad sectors of workers and the oppressed, with a politics independent of all capitalist wings and the decaying Italian political caste.

We think that in this acute situation, it is crucial to create a pole of class independence, which can bring together the most militant sectors of the working class with sectors of the youth, migrants, and women’s movement. For this, it would be necessary to take up the radical experiences of unity of action and common programs of struggle that have taken place in recent years in Italy, even if these have had their limits.

At the same time, it is important to offer a political alternative, since it is essential to denounce the reformism without reform of the center-left DP and the union bureaucracy that supports it. But, for this, it would not only be necessary to unite our struggles, but also to take steps to create a united, class-based, anti-capitalist political alternative. 

Such a platform could take advantage of elections to campaign among thousands of workers. We could even, in case of good results, use the seats in Parliament as forums to organize struggles and more forcefully spread a program so that the working class does not pay for this crisis. The example of the Left Front (FIT-U) in Argentina, and the role played there by our comrades in the Party of Socialist Workers (PTS), should be followed carefully by the Italian Left.

Unfortunately, the political Left that has not allied with the PD is very weak, and some groups are presenting themselves in a list inspired by the center-left coalition of Mélenchon’s French NUPES1The Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Social (NUPES) is an electoral alliance created for the legislative elections that took place in France in June. The alliance includes Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s social-democratic populist party La France Insoumise, the Greens, and remnants from the Socialist and Communist Parties. NUPES is now the second-largest grouping in the French legislature.. This is a politics of reformism and class conciliation.

Unlike those who repeatedly seek political shortcuts in the regime, we believe that the crisis can be solved in favor of the working class and oppressed people only if we fight for a politics of class independence and develop vast experience in self-organization. Only by breaking the dictatorship of the bankers and capitalists, who are behind all governments, and this democracy of the rich can a socialist society be built on a new foundation.

Capitalism has led us into continuous ecological catastrophe, causing wars, impoverishment, and famine. To attack these evils at the root, we cannot aspire to “humanize” this system, but must aim to overthrow it. We are still a small group in Italy, but we believe our strength lies in building a clear policy linked to these major goals.

Notes

Notes
1 The Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Social (NUPES) is an electoral alliance created for the legislative elections that took place in France in June. The alliance includes Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s social-democratic populist party La France Insoumise, the Greens, and remnants from the Socialist and Communist Parties. NUPES is now the second-largest grouping in the French legislature.
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