Class Fragmentation and the Collapse of Italian Politics
Italy’s new anti-establishment coalition government, between the right-wing League and the center-left 5-Star Movement is a symptom of the implosion of Italian politics, which has its roots in the fragmentation of Italy’s working class and of its leftist parties, explains Il Manifesto co-founder Luciana Castellina
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert, joining you from our studios in Baltimore.
On Tuesday, Italy’s parliament is confirming a new coalition government between the populist and right-wing League party and the center left and also populist Five Star Movement. Italy had held parliamentary elections in early March, and it took months of negotiations for the two parties to come to an agreement. Just last week it seemed like the agreement had been torpedoed by Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella, who had refused to accept the coalition’s anti-euro finance minister. He instead nominated a former IMF economist as a caretaker government until new elections would be held. However, the two parties subsequently agreed to a slightly different cabinet, and now the coalition will move forward after all.
Joining me from Rome to discuss the situation in Italy is Luciana Castellina. Luciana is a co-founder of the Italian newspaper Manifesto. She has been a deputy both in the Italian Chamber of Deputies and a member of the European Parliament. She has published numerous books in Italian about Italian politics, and her latest book in English, published by Verso, is a memoir titled “Discovery of the World: A Political Awakening in the Shadow of Mussolini.” Thanks for joining us today, Luciana.
LUCIANA CASTELLINA: While I’m answering you I’ve been watching the TV, which is showing the debate, the discussion which is going on in the parliament right at that moment, the discussion about the government. And it’s really a very hilarious scene because, you know, Five Stars, which has presented itself as a complete change, renewal of everything, finished with the old politics, it’s proposing a government which is full of the oldest, the worst of the traditional right. It’s not a group of naive young people who won’t be able to rule, as it has been said. It’s within the government. There are all the, all men of the power of the right, you know. And in this sense it is really something which you would not have expected, in a way.
Well, there is little to say. You know, it is very [inaudible] you have seen such a change from an electoral campaign to the government. And in fact an unbelievable and total change of attitude and proposals and culture, everything. Fortunately, you know, the Five Star have begun, have had such great support, and mainly among, among young people, because they presented themselves as the force of change, and image of change. And many of the left voted for the Five Star because they were, you know, really, they didn’t want to know about the government, which was officially a government of what used to be the left, and it’s no longer the left.
So this is the great imbroglio, you know, which took place. And of course of the real left, but it’s [inaudible] because of this confusion which has existed. The government, as you know, which we had before, the government of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party is the continuation of what used to be the Communist Party. It merged with the Christian Democrats. And their initiative, their policy has been against the trade unions’ laws and rules, which were against the, the workers. I mean the worst.
GREG WILPERT: Luciana, sorry to interrupt you, but I’m just wondering. Like you’re pointing out, this is a very strange correlation between a left populist movement, that is the Five Star Movement, and the former Northern League, now called just the League, which is basically a right-wing populist organization. What kinds of policies can we expect from such a strange combination of left and right, and both promising change, and both promising to be anti-establishment? What what kinds of policies can we expect from this coalition?
LUCIANA CASTELLINA: You see, what is interesting is the establishment, the so-called liberal establishment that is not here. I mean, it’s a little bit like what happened in America. I mean, these are people who believe [inaudible] against the establishment. But even if the people of the establishment are no longer there, the liberal establishment, let’s say, the same sense of the real powers are represented. This is why they found so easily an agreement. Of course, you know, they ask for giving more pensions to the people who are retired, to correct the law which had been made by previous governments, which was very bad for the people who retired. So now they will promise to give them more money.
But at the same time they take away the taxes to the rich people. So they do both, which is of course impossible. And then they try to say that the guilt, if something doesn’t work, is because of Europe. Europe has its responsibility, certainly, you know. But it’s a very nice way out to say that it’s Brussels, it’s Brussels’ responsibility, instead of saying that it’s the Italian powers, let’s say, the Italian establishment. So it’s real, it’s rarely we have seen such a confusion, you know.
But it’s a little bit like Macron. Even Macron says no left, no right, and came out like a new man of change. And then you have seen demonstrations in France every day made by the trade union, by the students, and so on. So it’s a little bit the same game. Of course, France is much stronger, but Italy [inaudible] it’s not so open like it is in Italy.
GREG WILPERT: Well, speaking of the role of the European Union, and you mentioned, of course, Macron was taking also in France, the president of France was taking this kind of dualistic kind of, or how shall I say it, this no left no right kind of approach. But just, let’s look a little bit at what, what the role of the European Union versus what domestic issues in Italy have led to the situation of what amounts to really a very, what at least, what seems like an anti-establishment election result that that promotes a left-right kind of coalition. What is it to that, that led to this? Is it the policies of the European Union? Or is it more something that is happening within Italy that is rooted in domestic issues and problems?
LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Once the left was easily legitimized. You know, you have the workers, and on the other side you had the bosses. The vote was simplified. Today the deomposition of the labour force has been so large, and it is not just split, a decomposition, because every worker has a differences. You don’t have the main, the large working class geographically concentrated in the same factories or in the same condition. In the same factories you have hyperflexible kind of agreements, because a lot of work is going outside. It’s outsourced. Then you have a lot of social figures which are just [inaudible] in that we also take Uber, the taxi, or take the riders. And you know, it’s very difficult to represent socially these people, because they’re all split. For example, the labour force is like a soup with a lot of pieces in it. And this has given to the vote, the vote became much more confused, because it’s difficult to represent in a collective way. You know, there is no collectivity anymore. There are just individuals.
And this has, also, cultural consequences. If you have a different social position you also have a different culture. And you, always who work horrible conditions, they have no agreements and no union protection, but they see, think themselves free, independent, just because it’s a [inaudible] dependent job. It is, in reality, a dependent job. But there is the impression not to be. Take drivers and logistics and all the stuff. And I think it has taken a long time for the left to be effective again, because if you don’t go through a social recomposition, those who are exploited, even the political vote becomes completely confused.
I mean, there is a reason. It’s true that there is 1 percent of rich and 99 percent of which are on the other side. But it’s very easy for the 99 percent to have a common purpose. But as soon as you go to a project, an alternative, this 99 percent splits in [inaudible] the need for the social, political, and cultural figures. And this is what’s happened in also [inaudible] in Europe, the percentage of the traditional working class, manufacturing, is 8 percent. Nothing. Only Germany has more, has [inaudible]. This is true in France, in Spain, in Italy, and so on. So I think we have to be aware that we are facing very deep historical crisis, and it’s not just, you know, craziness of an irrational vote.
And Italy is always, in the words of [inaudible], the vanguard of new phenomena. We have invented capitalism in Italy, and then we invented fascism, and anarchy. Now we are experiencing this soup, which is these two groups together. And it was very easy for the Five Star to change immediately their position. Just to say, I don’t know how much they will laugh, but they will laugh, they will find a way to-. You know, the point is that there is no position to defend, so this is the way they can last. Because there is no strength in those who should oppose this kind of imbroglio, you see.
GREG WILPERT: And your point about this being applicable to many other countries, I think, is very well taken, and we’ve seen a similar phenomenon, certainly, around Europe, and even in the United States. Even though one couldn’t say, necessarily, that the Five Star Movement is similar to Bernie Sanders, because it seems like it would be, as if Sanders had gone into coalition with Donald Trump is what’s happening in Italy right now. I’m not sure, but in any case it’s certainly a very scary situation.
Unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Luciana Castellina, the co-founder of the Italian newspaper Manifesto, and former member of Italy’s parliament. Thanks again, Luciana, for joining us today.
LUCIANA CASTELLINA: Bye-bye.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.