After three articles on the results of the European Elections in Hungary, Romania and Greece, we continue our series on the elections with Italy, with an article by our comrade Burak Sayım from ROR (Renaissance Ouvrière Révolutionnaire) of France.
The meteoric rise of the Lega
Recent European Parliament elections provided a clear indication that the ground is shifting in European politics. There are two sides to that -now clear- phenomenon. First, traditionally hegemonic centre-left and centre-right parties are swiftly losing ground. We will not further develop this point in this article. An analysis of this development could be found on another article published on RedMed by Sungur Savran. Moreover, and more central to the argument of this article, epicentre of the European political crisis is moving towards Italy, after passing through Greece, Great Britain and France.
During the last decade, European Parliament elections have been an occasion for the rise of new political contenders, not exclusive to Italy. In 2014, then Front National of Le Pen, and the UKIP of Farage, became the first parties of France and United Kingdom respectively, showing the imminence of the proto-fascist menace. In the very same elections, up-and-coming leader of the Democratic Party (PD), Matteo Renzi scored a landslide victory, winning every single one of the Italian regions. This time, while Farage and Le Pen maintain their grip in the first place of their countries, a so-called green wave receives a fair share of attention.
However, South Europe in general and Italy in particular are exempt of this green wave. Here the proto-fascist Lega (the League) party of Matteo Salvini, already controlling the Ministry of Interior and therefore the police apparatus, scored a meteoric rise. We will further develop the meaning of a Lega control over the Italian state, but at this point let us just recall the extent of this phenomenal rise. In 2013, barely six years ago, Lega was a negligible force in the ballot box with 4 percent of the vote with mostly a regional (Northern Italy) presence. Now they received one third of all votes. As a great example of this rise, in these elections, just in the Lombardia region Lega got 50% more than the total votes it had in Italy as a whole in 2013.
Just as remarkable as Lega’s rise in half a decade is the increase in its votes in the one-year period from the 2018 national elections. Increasing its votes by 3 million, it managed to obtain the support of 14% of former voters of the Five Star Movement (Cinque Stelle, M5S) and 30% of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy, FI), according to a research made by Ipsos. In addition to that, the smaller one of two proto-fascist parties of Italy and former coalition partner of Lega, Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, FdI) was able to increase its votes by 600.000. This means that two proto-fascist parties got more than 40 percent of all votes in Italy. To the best of our knowledge, this is the best overall electoral score obtained by fascist/proto-fascist parties in Europe in the post-2008 great depression period.
Proto-Fascism and fascism in Italy
As we have stated earlier- and as RedMed has been underlining time and again for years now- the rise of proto-fascism is far from being a national exception or an aberration. Several proto-fascist parties scored impressive electoral victories during last decade. Examples are dime a dozen: FN and now RN in France, UKIP in United Kingdom, PVV in the Netherlands and now AfD in Germany as well as Vox in Spain. In some cases, like Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary, we witnessed the rise of overtly fascist parties. In Austria proto-fascist FPÖ had even a short stint in the power as part of a coalition.
TheItalian case fits perfectly in this overall context with the rise of (meteoric for one and only relative for the other) two proto-fascist parties. The presence of Cinque Stelle as an electoral outlet for the disillusioned masses was able to keep the Lega at bay for some years. Now, with the latter’s political failure, first at the municipal level in some of the most important Italian cities, then now at a national scale after the victory of the 2018 elections, Salvini seems to have established himself as the sole alternative for disgruntled masses.
Salvini was already controlling the Ministry of the Interior, arguably the most important ministry in the modern bourgeois state. It was widely accepted, even before the elections, that Salvini himself was wielding more power in the government then the majority partner of his coalition, Cinque Stelle, let alone the figurehead of the government, Giuseppe Conte. This electoral victory will mean, without the slightest doubt, more leeway for Salvini, with or without snap elections.
A summary of Salvini’s term in ministry goes beyond the scope of this article. However, we deem it useful to recall his track record in a very brief manner, in order to develop our discussion regarding what to expect.
First of all, this short period was marked by an increasing activity of overtly fascist organisations in Italy, not the least the infamous CasaPound (House of Pound, as a reference to the fascist English poet Ezra Pound) and Forza Nuova (New Force). Let us recall that the 2018 elections in Italy, which made the Lega a coalition member, also saw a more-than-fivefold increase in the votes of CasaPound, after an electoral campaign marked by fascist attacks against immigrants and revolutionary or left-wing organisations, sometimes armed. These organisations have made an electoral alliance with the Lega on several occasions in the form of CasaPound or Forza Nuova, each presenting its own candidates on Lega lists. These organisations have been exploiting the political tolerance they get to the maximum, with several manifestations of their increasing force, as in the occasion of the march of more than 2000 “camicie nere” (black shirts, historical symbol of Italian fascism) in the small Italian town of Predappio, where the tomb of Mussolini is located, on October 28th. This is but one example of the growing power and visibility of the fascist movement in Italy, under the benign eye of Salvini and his policemen.
Not surprisingly, increasing tolerance towards open demonstrations of fascism was accompanied by a more repressive policy against anti-fascist political forces. Several police raids against anti-fascist militants took place, and on at least two occasions immigrants were gunned down by unnamed murderers. During the murder of Somayla Sacko, a militant rural worker with a migrant origin and a member of the USB trade-union, his murderers shouted “Salvini! Salvini!” while pulling the trigger. Salvini, as the Minister of the Interior, did not even bother to object against these attacks, if only formally. All these clearly indicate that under the reign of an ever-more-powerful Salvini, forces of working-class might more and more often hear the ominous sound of bullets fired at them.
Changing balance of power in the Italian right
As many readers might recall, Salvini and Lega was a part of what was -mistakenly- called a centre-right alliance, composed of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, as well as the two above-mentioned proto-fascist parties. Although the characterisation of this alliance as “centre-right” was a mistake, it was beyond doubt that the decisive power in it was Berlusconi’s party. Uneasy as it was as a partner, Lega was a secondary force within this alliance. Now the tables have turned. We do not know for sure if there will be snap elections in Italy following the earthquake of the European elections but in case there is one, in all likelihood, the same alliance will be formed. This time Berlusconi will be but a supporting pillar of what is now a clearly proto-fascist alliance. However, the majority of the Italian press keeps calling this a centre-right or at best “a right-wing alliance” despite the clear hegemony of Salvini and its political line summed as “Prima gli Italiani/Prima l’Italia” (“Italians/ Italy above all” in a clear continuity with infamous “Deutschland uber Alles”)
This turn of the table is one of the best examples of the plummeting of traditional bourgeois parties in the post-2008 period which we call the Third Great Depression. While the centre of the political panorama gets thinner with every passing year, alternatives on the further left and right are strengthening. Although so far proto-fascism was more able in capitalising the post-depression political crisis, examples of left-wing alternatives, even if not revolutionary in the proper meaning of the word, could also be seen all over the world. This is not an exclusively European phenomenon but just to show its European examples we could mention Corbyn in the UK, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and to a lesser degree, France Insoumise in France. So, here we face the crucial question, what about the Italian left?
Poetry against fascist militia: when naivety becomes a crime
The decimation of the Italian bourgeois left, similar to many other European countries, also took place in Italy and took its toll on the Democratic Party. Matteo Renzi, whose spectacular 2014 victory we mentioned earlier, is the prime example of it. This young politician, in his 30s during the 2014 elections and considered as the future of the Italian, if not the European left, is but a political carcass, merely a five years later. Just a few years ago, this party lost most of its electoral base, including several historical strongholds to Cinque Stelle. Let us not forget that although the latter has (or had) quite an eclectic political programme, it also included demands enticing left-leaning masses, such as the abolition of the much-hated “Jobs Act” of the Renzi government.
However, once in power Cinque Stelle quickly proved itself as yet another ordinary bourgeois party and as no revolutionary or even just left-wing political alternative with any appeal to the working class appears on the political horizon of Italy, the tide has once again turned. The results of European elections clearly show that a sizable chunk of the electorate have felt the need to vote for the PD, even though reluctantly, as the only thing they have “on the left” and as a solution against the rise of Salvini. This is particularly true in the big metropolises of Italy. In cities with more than 300.000 inhabitants, PD scored important electoral results, becoming the first party in front of Lega in these cities.
This return to PD as a perceived last bulwark against fascism has two disparate aspects. For the urban masses, voting or even adhering to PD as a sort of “hail Mary” solution against fascism, this is simply a sign of lack of alternatives, whose fault lies not in these masses but on the Italian revolutionary left incapable of providing this alternative. However, for many on the left, be that individual intellectuals or even organisations on the left, who feed the hope regarding PD in particular or for some sort of romantic and frivolous shortcut against rising fascism, it should be considered nothing short of treason before history. It might sound good and pleasant that voting for PD, calling for political dialogue and tolerance or working for art and beauty will change things. It is just like proposing a nice cup of green tea against ongoing cancer in body. Yet, we, as revolutionary Marxists, are once more recalling, nothing short of chemotherapy, nothing short of disciplined militant fight of the major battalions of working class is indicated. Anyone who is sincerely worried about the fascist threat should come within the ranks of the working class and take part in the true struggle against fascism.
Two events, emblematic of two potential roads to take against the fascist threat, took place during the last ten days of May. In one occasion, in Rome some graffiti of the above-mentioned Forza Nuova, including Swastikas and such, were covered by some papers carrying poems from a wide array of poets including Rimbaud and -closer to heart for a militant originally from Turkey like myself- Nazım Hikmet. Pictures of this act went viral, saluted by some as the victory of love over hate. Corriere della Sera, newspaper of what the French would call “gauche caviar” , called it “an original answer to fascism in return” and “the use of art against violence”.
About a week earlier, newspapers from all around the world wrote that, after their comrades from Le Havre in France, dockers from Genoa refused to load arms on a ship called Bahri Yanbu, belonging to the National Shipping Company of Saudi Arabia, in order to prevent their use against Yemeni people. We will save the reader from the details of this event, which could be found in newspapers in all languages. However, it is worth noting that this action went beyond the scope of a simple protest against Saudi Arabia and dockers openly challenged the “ports closed” policy of Salvini by signs reading “ports open”. On May 23rd, dockers’ mobilisation and an anti-fascist demonstration against a commemoration organised by Forza Nuova coincided, leaving the fascists unable to organise their rally as planned.
It should not come as a shock to learn that just a day after the “poetic protest” in Rome, Swastikas and Celtics Crosses returned, sprayed over the poems. In a nutshell, these two episodes foretell the possible outcomes of possible ways of anti-fascist struggle. A naïve call to love will be mercilessly crushed under the boats of black shirts, as defenceless beauty is doomed to be destroyed in the face of fascist terror. Do not get us wrong, our heart is with those youth who displayed the poetry. Triumph of love over hate; what a great thought! Poetry of Rimbaud and Hikmet on the walls of Rome, what a great sight! But we, as revolutionary Marxists, know that the victory of love could only come about through our unquenching class hatred against the fascist bullies and their puppet masters, the bourgeoisie. We know that to protect beauty we have no option but to mercilessly crush fascism with the devastating fist of the working class. The Genoa dockers are showing the right path, let us follow it. And make no mistake, comrade Hikmet will be by our side, filling the ranks, as we march ruthlessly to destroy the fascist lairs.