The chaos of rubbish piling up in the streets of Naples and the political crisis engulfing Italy are not expressions of Italian corruption and incompetence.
This turmoil is caused by the disastrous strategies of a ruling class’s desperate attempts to compete on a European and world stage.
The centre left coalition government of Romano Prodi took office 20 months ago amidst celebrations at the end of five years of rule by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s richest businessmen who was mired in corruption charges.
Prodi’s government fell last month because it no longer had a sufficient majority to stay in power.
It lost that majority when Clemente Mastellao resigned as minster of justice last month. His wife, who is regional president for the Campania area round Naples, was placed under house arrest for alleged bribery.
Mastella was already under investigation for corruption following the bankruptcy of Naples football club, of which he was vice-president.
In the first half of this decade Italy was at the centre of mass protests, against the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, the Iraq war and neoliberal “reforms”.
Yet Prodi and the Democratic Party – the ex-Communists who are the heart of the coalition he headed – deliberately avoided encouraging a mass base of support in the grassroots movements that had grown up after Genoa.
This demobilised the mass movements and led to a wafer-thin majority that kept the Prodi government in power.
Prodi took office seeking a more efficient Italian capitalism, guided by free market principles and not bogged down in kickbacks.
But Prodi’s allies were careful not to encourage any reforms that might inspire the mass of the population to start presenting wider social and economic demands.
President Giorgio Napolitano has now asked the speaker of the senate to consult with political leaders to see if there is enough consensus to form an interim government. This will centre on creating a new electoral system guaranteed to exclude the smaller parties.
Berlusconi waits in the wings hoping to resume office, but big business regards him as too self-interested. It would prefer a “grand coalition” between the Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia led by some “non-political” figure. The governor of the Bank of Italy is a much-touted name.
The same logic which underlay Prodi’s government is also to be found behind the rubbish crisis in Naples.
The regional administration led by the centre left has for years shunned a political strategy based on real social reform in favour of cosmetic changes and alliances with supposedly “progressive” sections of big business.
But business sees big profits in the construction of mega-incinerators.
Unsurprisingly the local population rebelled. They objected to plans to dump rubbish in areas which they had been promised would be reclaimed and used for local amenities.
Many also raised concerns over the frightening levels of toxins in the local environment – now an open secret and the subject of legal prosecutions.
In the midst of all this, you might expect that the left party Rifondazione Comunista, which was so central to the Genoa and anti-war protests, would have played a leading role.
But Rifondazione was part of the Prodi government and it was pulled by the argument that it couldn’t risk bringing the government down, even to the point of voting in favour of the Italian military presence in Afghanistan.
The result has been widespread political confusion in the movements.
The good news in all this is that according to the news agency ANSA, the level of strikes in Italy is at its highest since 2000.
Grassroots protests against water privatisation are alive and kicking.
Only last week the local authority in Nola near Naples decided to take water back under local authority control despite threats of legal action from the multinationals.
The anti-war movement is down, but not out. In December 100,000 demonstrated in Vicenza against the building of a new US military base.
In the coming months the anti-capitalist left is planning a series of forums to attempt to regroup. It’s time to resist and rebuild.
Phil Rushton is a member of the left wing Sinistra Critica group in Italy