A World to Win News Service for 9 March 2018 contains one article. It may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as it is credited.
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Why the Italian elections mean bad news for the world and what to do about it
9 March 2018. A World to Win News Service. The results of the Italian parliamentary elections are as alarming as they are grotesque. Grotesque in that the two parties that fared the best, splitting the electorate between them, the fascist League and the “libertarian” Five Star Movement, two apparent opposites, are united against immigration. Alarming because they demonstrate how quickly a violent, racist, fascistic mood can descend on a Western country, catching even many of its own people by surprise.
Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser and a leading white/male/American supremacist ideologue, came to Italy to witness the elections and celebrate the results. “The Italian people have gone farther, in a shorter period of time, than the British did for Brexit and the Americans did for Trump,” he told the New York Times. “Italy is the leader.”
The results marked the collapse of the two main parties that have dominated the country since the end of World War 2.
The governing Democratic Party, whose roots lie in the days when workers voted for the thoroughly non-revolutionary Communist Party, lost more than half its previous voters and came in a distant third. Things went even worse for Forza Italia, led by the notorious media magnate and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, often labelled the original Trump. EU officials. and other European powers had hoped that if the Democratic Party they preferred didn’t win, Berlusconi would, and govern alongside the Democratic Party in something like the German model of a “centre-left/centre-right grand coalition”.
For the purposes of this election Berlusconi had entered into an alliance with the League. Yet instead of him benefiting from this alliance, the League triumphed and his party was all but wiped out. The third party in his affinity group was the Brothers of Italy. The Brothers claim to be the heirs of Benito Mussolini, whose regime (1922-45) was the world’s first to call itself fascist. Mussolini was Hitler’s main ally in Europe in World War 2. One of the most telling indicators of just how far the political mainstream in the imperialist countries has shifted to the right is that leading Western media outlets referred to this line-up as “centre-right”.
This new-found respectability – in the eyes of the Western ruling classes and its pundits – for fascist forces, even while expressing distaste for them, is a major factor in the triumph of the League. Formerly called the Northern League, it is far from a newcomer on the Italian political scene. Based among the well-off in Italy’s richest regions, its original reason for existence was opposition to the use of tax money to develop southern Italy, which for a long time served as a source of labour for the immensely profitable northern industries. Its leaders are infamous for calling southern Italians lazy, dirty and smelly, using the Italian equivalent of the “n-word”. But now that category is applied to someone else. Almost overnight, the League abandoned its regionalism, dropped its opposition to the EU and adopted a new slogan, “Italians first”, declaring that all Italians must unite to expel all recent immigrants, for a start. Now it is Italy’s largest party in parliament, and its leader, Matteo Salvini, is demanding that the country’s figurehead president appoint him to form the next government.
No party won a majority, so any future government would be based on a coalition. The League could join with the Democratic Party, which helped pave the way for the League by criminalizing humanitarian efforts to rescue immigrants from drowning and using the navy and Libyan warlords to prevent boats with refugees from leaving North Africa by military force. This led to imprisonment of many thousands of Africans in concentration camps in Italy’s former colony. The Democratic Party played a major role in popularising anti-immigrant sentiment and legitimating fascist positions.
Or there could be a coalition between the League and the Five Star Movement. The fact that leading political commentators in Italy and abroad see this as a conceivable “solution” to Italy’s political crisis tells you a lot more about Five Star than many of its own supporters like to admit.
Five Star insists that it is a political movement, not a party. Its attitude toward political parties and traditional respectability is encapsulated in its official slogan, “Go fuck yourself.” Its self-image is displayed in its logo featuring a V, resembling the V-shaped mask from the 2005 film V for Vendetta and later adopted by anti-establishment groups like Occupy in the U.S. and UK. V stands for “Go” and is also the Roman numeral for five, referring to the movement’s “five star” core concerns: re-nationalizing Italy’s public water system, sustainable transport, sustainable development, environmentalism and Internet access for all. Its founding rules call for all “direct democracy” (all decisions decided by referendum on the Web), strict restrictions to prevent the emergence of permanent leaders and an end to “professional” politics by requiring its elected officials to turn over much of their salary.
Yet only ten years after its founding, Five Star has now become a political party, one whose 31-year-old new leader, Luigi Di Maio, is known for his clean-cut appearance and suit and tie in contrast to the deliberate scruffiness of its comedian co-founder, Beppe Grillo. Di Maio, too, is demanding to be named to form a government, which would almost surely mean a coalition with one or more of the parties it has defined itself against.
This is not what was imagined by many of Five Stars’ supporters, who are generally less religious, less traditional and somewhat younger than those of the other parties. They include students, professionals and small and medium businessmen who feel crushed by the political system and the enormous and omnipresent corruption it is synonymous with. Initially it tried to take a less than clear position on immigration, focusing its attacks on “the immigration business”, the (very real) abuses by the criminal organizations that feed on the official asylum centres, and the demand that other European countries take their share of migrants instead of confining them to Italy. Yet even though the Five Star programme opposed the other parties’ anti-immigrant rhetoric, its own position still amounted to a kind of libertarian version of “Italians first”, in line with their position against Italy remaining in the EU (in the European Parliament it has joined the grouping with the “Brexit” leader Nigel Farage). For both the League and Five Star, the underlying nationalism that has been a driving factor in their opposition to the EU has become even more strongly embraced as the immigration issue has become more central throughout Europe.
Anti-immigrant sentiment on today’s scale is relatively new in Italy. A few years ago, when small boats first began heading for Sicily, the Italian shores closest to North Africa, and the Italian and other European governments deliberately let thousands of people drown, local fisherman and others took it on themselves to rescue would-be immigrants and take them in. Local officials in Lampedusa, a small island near Tunisia, where many people were washed up, bitterly criticized the government for not giving the newcomers the help they deserved. Today, it’s not clear if such people changed their minds or have simply been overwhelmed by a growing anti-immigrant sentiment that the state and all the political parties did everything to bring into being.
The influx of immigrants in recent years does not explain why so many Italians have come to consider immigration a concentration of everything that frustrates and humiliates them in their society, a “crisis” that has to be resolved through the most drastic (and inhuman) measures – why it has become the main battering ram for fascism. Surely it has something to do with the idea that people born in Italy – and, increasingly, not all those born there but just those born of “real” Italians – are entitled, by the fact of that birth in an imperialist country that draws wealth from all over the world, to live better and consider themselves better than people from countries dominated and bled by the global imperialist system. Some people argue that economic problems, especially high unemployment, are to blame for the anti-immigrant hysteria, but the jobs immigrants find, basically making the country’s much-vaunted exports – working in the vineyards and agriculture in general, in the hi-tech small and medium factories of the north making special fabrics and other luxury goods, and providing the personal care and other social services that help preserve the traditional family structure – are jobs that many Italians no longer feel compelled to accept.
The Five Star Movement and many self-identified “people of the left” have essentially embraced this feeling of entitlement. It goes hand in hand with the reformist view that instead of seeking a radically changed society tries to make the existing society work better by replacing its corrupt managers. Despite talk about “the system”, this movement’s opposition has been moving dangerously closer to the fascists’ rhetoric, and comes down to the goal of changing political structures and not the underlying economic relations of exploitation and oppressive social relations. They end up sharing with the fascists the core aim of a “better” imperialist Italy and a “better deal” (for Italians) within the global imperialist food chain, rather than the end of the monopoly capitalist system that shapes everyone’s lives and brings countries into antagonism with one another, both between the countries that do the feeding and those that are fed upon, and between rival imperialist countries.
As the immigration issue got sharper and sharper, Five Star clarified its position. In line with the government itself, its leader denounced NGOs for carrying out search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean, saying that amounted to providing “taxis” to bring in immigrants. Today its stand is hard to distinguish from the “Italians first” of the outright fascists. Whether Five Star ends up joining a coalition with fascists or a rival coalition, or some combination of both, it has become a cog in the wheel of a complex political process impelling the rise of fascism in Italy today.
A few weeks before the elections, in the central Italian town of Macerata, a young man who had been a local candidate for the League got out of his car, draped himself in an Italian flag, gave the Mussolini fascist salute and proceeded to shoot six passers-by he took to be African (fortunately, none died). He said he was avenging the atrocious murder of an Italian woman by Nigerian criminals, but nobody shoots Italians at random to retaliate against Italian Mafia murders. After this, every political current took a stand. The head of the League said he was against violence, but Africans had brought violence to Italy (!!!). Smaller fascist groups called for Italians to rally around the shooter. Thousands of people came to take part in an anti-fascist march – and there have been more, across the country. But with Five Star increasingly joining in the chorus decrying “out of control immigration”, its supporters were far too absent from the anti-fascist protests at this critical time. The fascist call to expel half a million or more people immediately – with all the naked state force that would require – is being legitimized and now packaged as a demand of “the people”.
Far too many Europeans think that fascism has peaked, that it couldn’t grip their countries, just as most people thought about Italy. In fact, until now, many people thought that it could only come to power in the poorer countries of Eastern Europe, not in Western Europe and certainly not in the Eurozone’s third-largest economy.
But there’s something deeper to be learned from the Italian example. In France, for instance, the France Insoumise movement headed by Jean-Luc Melenchon is going down the same path as Five Star, shifting from deliberate ambiguity on immigrants to adopting the same conciliatory logic: that mass immigration is a critical problem, that if the state doesn’t take measures to halt it then the fascists will triumph, leaving no “practical” choice but to adopt an anti-immigrant position. Currently, the “centrist” government of Emmanuel Macron is moving to implement extremely cruel policies against immigrants – not in the face of upcoming elections but after an election in which Macron owes his victory to people who voted for him to defeat the candidate of the fascist National Front. Instead of rallying people against this, Melenchon has remained uncharacteristically silent. Right now practically none of the organized French “left” is joining the Christians, humanitarians and NGOs in fighting for the idea that all human beings have the same rights. The National Front may be dragged down in internal squabbles for the moment, but ideologically the path is being cleared for them.
In the UK, too, even many people who consider themselves revolutionary can’t break with the “my country first” (or, in its “leftist” version, “my people first”) thinking embodied in Brexit and infusing the Labour Party. During the Brexit referendum campaign, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn acquiesced to the frenzied cry to “control” “our borders”. Did Labour target the criminal responsibility of British imperialism in driving millions from their homes through its murderous participation in the US-led wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan? Of course not. Labour’s key argument instead was that immigrants make a net contribution to the British economy – in other words, they’re good for “us Brits”. With the blinkers of nationalism narrowing their vision to “my country”, all too many progressive people have allowed themselves to slip into supporting positions that they never thought they would have.
Whatever the different features to the rise of fascism around Europe, it’s being produced by economic and social developments within societies that are in turn driven and determined by what’s happening in the world imperialist system as a whole. This is what’s behind the necessities faced by every imperialist ruling class, including in Italy, as the traditional liberal democratic governing arrangements that have been in place since World War 2 crack apart under the pressure of tectonic shifts in the world imperialist system, and as rivalry between the imperialists sharpens – so that Italy, for example, now finds it both possible and necessary to aggressively step up its intervention in North Africa alongside Libya’s warlord regime. These global shifts also underlie the changing configuration of Italy’s economy and society, leading to the violent reassertion of the core values that have held that society together.
When the American fascist Bannon said “The Italian people have gone farther,” he left where this is going unsaid. These fascists don’t want power just to enrich themselves. They intend to reconfigure and use the capitalist state to carry out extremely violent changes, as soon as possible, to a status quo that is cracking wide open in the face of the objective forces roiling today’s world. In the name of “Italians first”, they are willing to shed the blood of anyone who opposes the crimes they are preparing.
Stopping fascism requires a unity that is as broad as this horrendous situation requires, and at the same time events themselves are making it clear that there must be a core of people who understand how the imperialist system has brought about this situation, and therefore view fighting fascism as part of dealing with the problems at their root, through revolution, and consequently, while uniting broadly, can struggle against the illusions and wrong thinking that have helped the rise of fascism and could sabotage the struggle against it. Some people have to take that responsibility.
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Anyone who is seriously concerned with fighting the rise of fascism in their country and getting to the roots of its source needs to watch the video of the presentation by Bob Avakian on the Deep Roots and Driving Forces of Trump/Pence Fascism in the United States and What Must Be Done to Stop It – Watch It Here, and Spread It:
In this talk, entitled THE TRUMP/PENCE REGIME MUST GO! In the Name of Humanity, We REFUSE To Accept a Fascist America, A Better World IS Possible, Bob Avakian (BA) dissects that the election of Donald Trump signals that we are being confronted and now ruled by a fascist regime. It examines why people voted for Trump and how things came to the point where we are confronting the real horror of a fascist America. Told briefly is the “longer story,” the broader history that has led to this.
BA, the most radical revolutionary on the planet, drives home the importance of taking sustained, mass, defiant, nonviolent action to drive out the Trump/Pence regime, and he takes on the most common arguments against doing so. In the wide-ranging question and answer that follows, BA digs into the problems facing the movement against fascism. It is critical that those of us here in Europe and around the world – whether facing the rise of Marine LePen’s National Front, the League in Italy, the AfD in Germany or elsewhere – study deeply the scientific method and approach Avakian is taking to the rise of fascism in the US, how to build the broad unity necessary to defeat it, and how that relates to the struggle to do away with its roots in the capitalist system.