Italy: a reactionary and neo-liberal restoration project

The right-wing coalition, led decisively by the extreme right party, Fratelli d'Italia (Brothers of Italy), won the 25 September general election. It opens a phase fraught with danger for the working class movement and for the civil, social and economic rights of citizens.1

We are faced with a reactionary project to restore a conservative and identity-based society expressed in the triad 'God, Fatherland, Family'. This project is also based on the comprehensive adoption of ultra-liberal policies and the centrality of business. The Manifesto newspaper has called it an 'evil union between the extreme right and neo-liberal doctrine'.

Ignazio Benito La Russa places himself in the continuity of fascist history. He has been elected as President of the Senate (the second office of the state). Lorenzo Fontana has been chosen as President (Speaker) of Parliament (the third office of state). He is a reactionary - homophobic, anti-abortion, anti-women and anti-migrant. Overall the composition of the new government under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni of the hard right Fratelli di Italia (FdI) perfectly embodies her project to thoroughly change Italian society. Italy has already been shattered by the defeats of the labour movement and the austerity policies of the previous centre-right and centre-left governments.

It is a government of mediocrities, of avowed reactionaries and post-fascists, 11 ministers were already present in the Berlusconi era, refleclting the political, ideological, and material reality of the right-wing currents.  We see a narrow-minded, petty-bourgeois "Italy," which has a long history, but which is well connected to the national and international dominant powers of this phase of capitalism.2

This right-wing has established itself thanks to the ideological backwardness of many workers and the policies conducted by centre-left governments that have disoriented and disappointed large sectors of the population. It will make full use of the political and institutional powers at its disposal.

The first measures

The government's first measures are unequivocal: draconian police-state regulations targeting any demonstration or occupation of places or buildings with more than 50 people that could create a dangerous situation. It would impose not only stratospheric fines on participants, but most importantly jail terms of up to 6 years. The regulation is presented as a policy against rave parties, but in reality it wants to target strikes, pickets and school/university occupations (students at the University of Rome have already been savagely beaten, the day after the formation of the government and above all factory occupations.3 4 5

As for Covid pandemic controls, all measures, even the minimal ones, of prevention were lifted. There will be no more restrictions; doctors who had refused to vaccinate were allowed to return to duty immediately. It sent a message of "no more restrictions" and a thank you to the "NO Vax people" with whom the right-wingers have always flirted and gained a lot of votes.

The government programme

Giorgia Meloni in expounding the program, added a fourth deity to her usual trinity of "God, Fatherland, Family,"  to which everything must be sacrificed: business. Meloni proposes it as the central plank of her programme in total continuity with the economic policies of the Draghi government.  Indeed, in recent months, she has always consulted with him, although she was formally in opposition. The business activities of the bosses must not be hindered in any way so much so that the slogan is "do not disturb those who want to get on." Meloni re-proposes the measures that centre-right and centre-left governments have been implementing for years with any benefits for the bosses but nor for the workers:

  • tax cuts
  • cutting social insurance taxes paid by companies for workers they employ
  • tax cuts for companies that hire
  • business subsidies
  • simplification of rules and therefore of controls

We can also add the regressive flat tax and the liberalization of how much  cash you can use in any transactions that opens the door to tax evasion and corruption..

"Freedom, freedom, freedom," Meloni chants... but she should have added "to exploit."

One can see a specific Italian reality here - the size and role of the small and middle bourgeoisie are far superior to those of other countries.  Many businesses for example in tourism or hospitality have survived capitalist competition only thanks to the intense exploitation of their workers as well as tax and social insurance evasion, tax amnesties and state subsidies.  These are the millions of people who make up the mass base of the forces of the right, particularly the League (Salvini's party) and the FdI. These people feel strongly threatened by the deep economic crisis; they feel anger towards political parties, they express social resentment towards others such as migrants and are generally rebellious. The FdI has drawn a lot of support from this social layer. In order to satisfy this base Meloni has to cut resources to other sectors of society. So she is cutting back on the 'citizen's income'.  This is quite a modest social benefit which costs just 7 billion euros a year, much less than the dozens of billions doled out to the big and smaller businesses. Nevertheless this social subsidy has allowed several millions of people, especially in the South, to survive.6

This government is not concerned with the 5 million people living in absolute poverty, the other 5 million in relative poverty, the  high levels of  unemployment and precarious employment  and the low wages and pensions being eroded by inflation, now reaching 12 percent.

We will see in the coming days what measures will be taken on energy bills.

The government's proposals for institutional change also follow logically from its overall programme and authoritarian ideology. They also fit with the trends seen in other capitalist countries: presidentialism, but also the differentiated autonomy of the regions that will divide Italy even more.  Meloni is also reaffirming the nationalist and imperialist role of Italy, which must maintain more than ever its troops overseas to defend its interests. A sharp increase in military spending is indispensable, which Parliament, almost unanimously, has already decided by raising it from 25 to 38 billion annually.  Full support is given to the Italian military industrial complex. All this is conceived within the United States and NATO alliance.  Italian imperialism remains closely integrated with Western imperialism.

The family, for the government, is only conceived as the traditional one, to be supported with "a massive plan to rediscover the beauty of parenthood."

For young people, the government wants lots of sports, some culture, but above all, promoting the "culture of enterprise" and of student loans. Of course if young people rebel against the existing order they will have to face old and new repressive laws.

For migrants, the agenda is one of savage exploitation for those who have managed to arrive in Italy and an attempt, already practiced in the past, to block migration from the other side of the Mediterranean.  Those fleeing wars and famine may die, but far from our eyes.

After three years of a pandemic, a huge social drama, with 180,000 deaths and a collapsing health care system, public health care should have been at the centre of the government's policies. Massive resources are needed to revitalize it: instead nothing, except the green light to more privatisation.

Erasing struggles and alternative thinking

Meloni does not want to revolutionize the capitalist system, but only to bring its most negative tendencies to full functioning within an ideological and material restoration project.

In this regard, the Gramscian concepts of the passive revolution and the subversive nature of the ruling classes to cope with the contradictions of the system have been recalled by several authors. In reality, the Italian bourgeoisie has long since operated a new passive revolution ( I think it is more correct to say counterrevolution) subverting the power relations that emerged in the season of struggles of the 1970s and destroying a large part of the conquests of the working classes. Its problem is that it has failed to overcome the crisis of political leadership by equipping itself with institutional and party structures that guarantee adequate social stability. It is difficult for the bourgeoisie to accept that, given the negatives, Fratelli d'Italia, is a guarantor of a season of stability, even if they will use them fully against the working class.

Meloni has recounted a farcical 'history' of the 1970s, forgetting the terrible massacres carried out by fascist forces in collusion with sectors of the state apparatus to halt the rise of the labor movement. In her intent to 'restore' the country, she wants to erase the history of social and democratic struggles. She also wants to cancel out the democratic, progressive, socialist and communist notions and the ideals of freedom and equality invoked by  the 1948 Constitution. The anti-fascist Resistance and then the great labour movement and democratic struggles had produced an almost secular ‘religious’ consensus in public opinion around these values written into the Constitution. All of this was represented and organized not only by labour unions and left-wing parties, but also by associations such as the ARCI (Cultural Association) and the ANPI (National Association of Partisans) and other movements. It is a social and political culture, hated and fought against by right-wingers because it is an alternative to fascism and reactionary ideas, a vision of freedom, democratic rights and social justice that many hoped would be fully realized with the overcoming of capitalism.

Actually, practically the  entire ruling class and its media have been working for years not only to obscure that history and the ideals of a more just and alternative society, but to roll back and defeat the workers' movement. Also working in this direction have been the centre-left forces that have renounced any idea of transforming society, endorsing neo-liberal doctrines, and participating in the reduction of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Today, history presents its bill with the far right that wants its revenge, a full identity-focussed and nationalist restoration within the context of the current environmental and civilizational crisis of the capitalist system.

Responding to the right-wing project

To date, the response of the trade union movement, which have been subordinate to the policies of capital for years, has been non-existent. They have taken ambiguous and wait-and-see positions such as, "we will judge the government on the basis of what it does."

However, many political, social, association and union forces, as well as democratic and "progressive" ones, are moving to build responses the varied attacks of the capitalists and the government. The list of initiatives and demonstrations on the calendar is very long and worth supporting.  The challenge is whether they will be able to find a mass response and the coordination necessary to be effective and weigh in the overall confrontation.

We need to rebuild a workers' movement capable of withstanding the coming clashes and of providing coordination for all social struggles. We must organise in the unions starting with the largest one, the CGIL, around demands to change pace, to build a broad unity of the working class and of the exploited, of its organizations, including unity with the combative grassroots unions (which for their part have already called a national strike on December 2) around a platform of struggle for:

  • wage increases that defend living standards,
  • the sliding scale of wages,
  • the repeal of the laws on precarious working
  • the reduction of working hours without loss of pay;
  • a public plan to create millions of jobs (health care, schools, etc. ),
  • highly progressive taxation and a wealth tax;
  • no to military spending.

The objective must be to keep economic and social battles linked with environmental and civil rights battles, a perspective of unity and an alternative to the system. We are against capitalism that generates misery, exploitation and wars, it is necessary to build an alternative society based on justice, solidarity, civil and social rights.  It is only possible to do this through mobilization, self-organization in the workplaces and popular participation. We question the mechanisms of the bosses' exploitation and profit. The Florence GKN collective, which has been conducting a tough struggle for the defence of their factory for a year, proposes and works for the convergence of all the social, union, territorial, environmental struggles and the sharing of goals. It has already succeeded in bringing together forces that have been able to build large demonstrations (12 thousand participants in Bologna on Oct. 22) It is the road that all the class forces fighting this government should take.  

 Franco Turigliatto is a leading member of  Sinistra Anticapitalista

  • 1 The main elements of the elections were: the negative record of abstentions, 17 million, (only 63% of the eligible voters participated); the right-wing coalition obtained 44% of the votes, as in 2018, but within it there was a massive shift to the far right with millions of votes transmigrated to Giorgia Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia (FdI) which had 7,300,000 votes (26%). Salvini's League stopped at 2,464,000 (8.77%) and Berlusconi's Forza Italia (FI) 2,278,000 (8.11%). The division of the other political forces allowed the right-wingers to win almost all the uninominal seats. The law provides for constituencies with uninominal elections and constituencies with proportional elections; it is an undemocratic law that the PD, FI and Lega Nord wished for at the time, which gave the right-wingers an overwhelming majority in both the Chamber (237 out of 400 deputies) and the Senate (115 out of 206). Gianni Letta's Partito Democratico (PD) collected 5,356,000 (19.07%); Giuseppe Conte's Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) 4,333,000 (15.43%). Green and Left Alliance 1,018,000 (3.63%).
  • 2The government is composed of 24 ministers, 9 of whom are from FdI, 5 from the League and 5 from FI, 5 'technical independents', i.e. conservatives linked to the right-wing. There are only 6 female ministers. An old conservative magistrate, Nordio is Justice Minister, the Legaist Giorgetti, a friend of the northern bosses, is Economy Minister. Meloni's trusted man, Crosetto, a big businessman in the military industry, is Minister of Defence! The Minister of the Interior is Piantedosi, prefect of Rome, who was responsible for public order in the capital when the Forza Nuova squadrists went undisturbed to attack the CGIL headquarters. Eugenia Roccella, Minister of the Family, represents, due to her positions, a declaration of war on women's rights; Marina Calderoni, Minister of Labour presided over the Order of Labour Consultants, those who support companies against workers. Meloni's brother-in-law became Minister of Agriculture.
  • 3These measures are in full continuity with repressive regulations on social struggles already passed long ago by the centre-left and never repealed.
  • 4These measures are in full continuity with repressive regulations on social struggles already passed long ago by the centre-left and never repealed.
  • 5These measures are in full continuity with repressive regulations on social struggles already passed long ago by the centre-left and never repealed.
  • 6The narrative of the right-wing is: 'the poor are poor because they are idle or incapable; the rich are wealthy because of merit and because they have 'worked hard'.

Franco Turigliatto