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Italy’s new fascist government opens fire on immigrants
11 June 2018.. A World to Win News Service. The new Italian government’s opening salvo was to order that the country’s ports be closed to an NGO ship carrying 629 people rescued from the Mediterranean, about 100 of them children. This demonstrated just what the slogan “Italians first” really means.
This is the first, but most certainly not the last, result of the parliamentary elections last March and the following three months of negotiations. What many people thought (or hoped) could never happen finally did happen: the Five Star Movement, a young, self-styled “forward-looking” party that calls for the replacement of all political parties by “direct democracy” joined with the old-line neo-fascist thugs of the League on a joint programme and formed a coalition government. What makes this alliance shameful is not that Five Star, largely based in poorer southern Italy, has partnered with what was formerly named the Northern League, a party founded on the idea that the country’s southerners are less than Italian. It’s that both forces have united on the potentially genocidal stand that certain non-Italians are less than human.
The coalition’s first attempt to form a government failed when, in an unheard-of move, the country’s normally figurehead president, not chosen by direct vote, vetoed a cabinet that included an anti-European Union figure in a key ministry. The second attempt succeeded when both parties reiterated their commitment to Italy’s membership in the EU and the euro currency zone. League head Matteo Salvini and Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio became vice ministers under a supposedly neutral prime minister. But although Five Star came in far ahead of the League in the elections, the League and its policies have come to the fore.
Salvini was made Interior Minister, in charge of state repression, and has been by far the government’s loudest voice. In his ferociously anti-immigrant inaugural speeches he expanded the target to include Roma (“Gypsies”) and the practice of Islam. The new Family Minister, a Catholic fundamentalist, declared her die-hard opposition to divorce and abortion, and made her immediate goal the end of same-sex marriage. This is necessary, she said, to prevent the “erasure” of “our people”. The fact that this would appal Five Star’s more secular supporters didn’t seem to matter. Five Star’s Di Maio got to be Minister of Labour and Economic Development. The League agreed to put off its proposed “flat” tax meant to favour its more well-off social base, while Five Star did the same with its signature policies, a guaranteed income for all Italian citizens and early retirement, measures said to ease the pain of unemployment. The two forces ended up uniting around one priority: to remove, as soon as possible, half a million people – virtually everyone remaining in Italy who crossed the Mediterranean in recent years.
The result was a government programme and cabinet that powerful ruling class forces behind the scenes and Italy’s traditional parties could and did accept. So did many such forces abroad, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), whose main concern during the negotiations was the threat to the stability of the vampire international finance system. This threat was happily avoided when the two former fringe parties backed off earlier pronouncements about balanced budgets and the euro.
But the threat to Europe’s stability has not been averted. While the same class forces as ever are mainly in charge, the new Italian government does represent a dramatic change. In Italy, as in country after country around Europe, the collapse of confidence in the widely hated “system” parties, the “centre-right” and “centre-left” that alternated in government since World War 2, has been appropriated by a “populism” where the “will of the people” – or at least carefully selected expressions of the most backward and reactionary sentiments among sections of the people – is being used to justify attacks on established democratic rights. This is accompanied by blatant national chauvinism untinged by “humanist” pretensions, and by stepped-up, undisguised racist violence and misogyny.
This “populism” with its “my people first” can only mean “my country first” – bringing together the ruling exploiters and the exploited and oppressed alike. The “people” are no longer defined as all inhabitants of a territory, the hallmark of modern nation states that emerged in revolutions against feudalism, but according to a mystical vision of “a people” united by their “blood” (excluding even immigrants’ children). This was exemplified in Nazi ideology as “true Germans” versus “non-Germans” such as Jews, Roma, gender non-conforming people, the disabled and so on, all to be exterminated. Now once again we see politics based on appeals to the resentments of a mythically defined “volk” (the Nazi’s favourite word, not for people in general but a particular ethnicity, to be “defended” in opposition to everyone else), who have supposedly been denied their “rightful” place at the top of the global imperialist food chain. Of course today’s leading example is the white supremacist slogan and programme “Make America Great Again”. Not every populist movement has gone all the way down that road, but that’s where that road leads.
The Five Star Movement has added its own defining idea to this mix: to move politics from the streets to the Internet, distilling the will of the people through frequent Web-based referendums.. The underlying claim is that what is just and right is what’s expressed by the majority of people at any given place or time. The bankruptcy of this philosophy was revealed in the way Five Stars settled the debate around immigration in its own ranks on the eve of forming the new coalition government. About 94 percent of the people who chose to vote on its Web site (it has no formal members) expressed the opinion that society, the media and even the Movement’s own authorities had taught them. In this way they gave their blessings to fascist homicidal maniacs about to go on a rampage.
The American fascist ideologist Steve Bannon, recently interviewed in his new stomping ground in Rome by CNN, said that Italy’s new government demonstrates the possibility and necessity for alliances between Trump-like forces and part of what he called the “left” in many countries. Speaking of the U.S., he called for a union between “Trumpists” and some supporters of the “populist” presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the basis of what he called “economic nationalism”, a term used to describe aspects of the Five Star Movement in Italy. It could also apply to similar nationalist “leftist” and “socialist” forces in other countries, like the movement led by Jean-Luc Melenchon in France and even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the UK.
What comes first, “my people”, “my country” – or the interests of the world’s people, of humanity? What none of Italy’s major parties, fascist or mainstream, is willing to acknowledge is the truth behind what has been driving millions of migrants out of their own homes in the first place: that the desperate conditions in their homelands is bound up with the generations-old division between the oppressor countries in the West and the oppressed countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Or as one slogan popular in pro-refugee protests puts it, “They’re over here because we’re over there”.
What’s happening in Italy shows the truth and power of this dividing line and the necessity to wage political and ideological struggle with people’s backwardness on this question, while vigorously and urgently stepping up opposition to the fascist movements and regimes and their conscious or unwilling collaborators.