There is no doubt that the Italian election results represent a humiliation for the traditional political elite.
The centre right under Silvio Berlusconi received 17 million votes in 2008. Now it is down to 10 million—a loss of 41 percent. And the centre left coalition of Pier Luigi Bersani also lost 3.5 million votes.
The “non-party” Mario Monti, the technocrat who led the previous government, barely got 10 percent.
It is widely admitted that popular anger at the austerity policies of all these forces was behind these results. And that has every government in Europe worried as they are all committed to the same cuts in the living standards of ordinary working people.
There are other factors at work that mean the problems go much deeper into the system.
The crisis that has shaken international capitalism for the last five and a half years is not the first. There has been a series of crises over the previous four decades.
The effect is similar to a person with a long standing illness suffering a relapse—the effects are more devastating on an already fragile body. What this means in the case of Italy is easy to see.
The political system went through the so-called Tangentopoli corruption scandals 20 years ago. The Christian Democrats that had ruled the country continuously since the end of the Second World War were destroyed.
Bettino Craxi, leader of the Socialist Party and of a coalition government, fled the country to avoid a corruption trial and never returned.
Slow economic growth compounded the political crisis. It left Italy with a debt burden near unsustainable levels before the current crisis struck. One might say that Italy went into the economic crisis with zombie political parties alongside zombie banks.
These are important aspects of the situation that the left needs to keep in mind to avoid falling into the trap of “improving competitiveness”.
European Union and German government leaders insist that politicians in Rome must ensure that the Italian economy recovers lost ground in the international markets. In other words more austerity and cutting labour costs to make Italian products more competitive.
The first problem with this approach is that it is clearly undemocratic. Most agree that Italian voters are in revolt against austerity, yet this “recipe” insists that it must be imposed against their expressed will.
Secondly, austerity has been the norm across Europe and has not ended the crisis anywhere. Thirdly, and most importantly, this requires an escalation of austerity measures as major economies seem to be heading towards “currency wars”.
Any sacrifices made by workers in Italy may be wiped out at a stroke if we enter a period of “competitive devaluations”.
The new government in Japan is considered a frontrunner in this dangerous game. But it is not alone. For example Samuel Brittan has written in the Financial Times of “Britain’s not-so-secret sterling devaluation plan”.
It would be a tragedy for workers to be dragged into such wars.
There is a crying need for anti-capitalist politics against a system that is running round in vicious circles. In 2006 Rifondazione Comunista seemed to offer a left alternative to the protracted crisis of Italian capitalism.
It emerged as an important force riding a wave of radicalisation after the protests against the G8 in Genoa. It then wasted the opportunity by joining the Romano Prodi government and betrayed the hopes of the left.
Beppe Grillo’s populist Five Star Movement has exploited the political vacuum. Surveys say over 54 percent of those who voted for Grillo define themselves as “left of centre”.
The challenge for the left in Italy is to win these people to build an anti-capitalist movement. Building the revolutionary left in Greece, in Britain and across Europe can help make this happen.
Panos Garganas is editor of Workers Solidarity, Socialist Worker’s sister paper in Greece
Historian John Newsinger writes
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