The decline and fall of Romano Prodi exposes the rottenness of Italian capitalism
The centre-left government led by Romano Prodi was put out of its misery on the night of January 24th, when a vote of confidence was lost by five votes in the Italian Senate. This represents yet another step in the deepening of the never-ending Italian crisis.
He's likely to be replaced for the next few months by Franco Marini, president of the Senate, until new elections will be held. After this debacle, Berlusconi is likely to win again. As we predicted, the Left has wasted years in supporting class-collaborationist policies in a coalition government with the bourgeoisie that just paved the way for the return of Berlusconi to power.
Who rules Italy?
Prodi is a bourgeois bureaucrat, a typical member of the political clique groomed since the end of the Second World War by the Italian ruling class. A long-standing member of the Christian Democrat establishment that ruled Italy for four decades, he was Minister of Industry in 1978, then CEO of the state-run industrial trust IRI, president of the European Commission and twice head of the government.
As a prime minister, he enjoyed the unstable support of a wide coalition ranging from Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, the main Communist Party) to small, corrupt parties of the political centre. One of those small groups resulting from the break-up of the Christian Democrat Party in 1994, the UDEUR Party, on January 21st withdrew its support for the coalition. This happened after a corruption scandal brought under investigation a large part of the Party leadership and their Secretary's family - two largely overlapping sets of people. The scandal was about power abuses in the management of the healthcare system, that is to say illicit money-making at the expense of the sick.
Paradoxically enough, the Party's Secretary, Clemente Mastella (also involved in the scandal), held the position of Minister of Justice before resigning. After being detained, Mastella's wife declared that alleged "secularist circles" wanted to damage her because of her firm Roman Catholic faith...
The UDEUR got 1.4% of the votes and had just three MPs (out of 321) in the Senate. Its main base of support is centred on a small economically depressed and Mafia-dominated area in Southern Italy around the town of Ceppaloni. This town of 3,400 people is considered the political fief of the Mastella family. And yet, this tiny gang of opportunists managed to trigger an avalanche that decisively upset the political equilibrium of the seventh industrial power of the world.
While this quick depiction of the state of Italian politics suffices to show how rotten and unstable the situation is in the Peninsula, it would be very naïve to believe that the end of "Prodism" was just the result of an unfortunate series of judicial events. Moreover - and whatever Mastella or his wife may say - there is no logical connection between the scandal and the UDEUR's coup de grâce against Prodi.
The government was in trouble long before the latest corruption scandal. Just a few days before, another small opportunist group in the centre of the political spectrum, led by Lamberto Dini (former IMF Executive Director, former Minister of the Treasury under Berlusconi, then head of the government in 1995, then a supporter of Prodi), had declared that Prodi's time was over. In order to give our readers a complete picture, we could just mention the fact that also Dini's wife, a wealthy woman who inherited colossal vested interests in South America, has been involved in a bankruptcy fraud trial and in December 2007 got 28 months in prison - but was cleared by a general pardon.
These are the kind of rulers that capitalism has to offer to help Italy out of its quagmire.
The Left: seduced and abandoned
Dini pointed out that a new government was needed to implement the "reforms" needed by the country, i.e. to persevere in the attacks on the working class required by the Italian bosses, while at the same time cornering the Left.
Prodi's reply was that he was already performing that task very well - and this is true. The retirement system, for example, has undergone a counter-reform during 2007. Alitalia is being privatised. The expansion of the US military base in Vicenza got the green light. A rotten racist Security Act was worked out and used against immigrant workers and to foster national divisions within the working class.
Many more examples could be provided. All of these measures have been supported, either uncritically or with some minor remarks, by all left-wing parties and unions. Thus, what is happening is that the loss of credibility suffered by left-wing parties during the Prodi government is being used to push the country's centre further to the right. This is precisely the opposite of what the left-wing bureaucrats have been promising their rank and file, i.e. influencing the coalition's policies in a progressive direction.
This is the result of the failure to provide a class analysis of the Italian puzzle. The republic has been in a permanent unstable state for several years, as a consequence of the weakness of Italian capitalism. The ruling class is confronted with serious difficulties in finding a way out without excessively provoking the working class. The proletariat is still powerful and very militant, albeit fettered by the dead weight of the bureaucratised leaderships of the unions and the Left.
This weakness reflects itself in the need for the creation of huge strata of parasitic formations on top of the fragile economy, especially within the state apparatus. The Italian bourgeoisie has always been forced to rely on several different parasites: the Christian Democracy and now its offspring that comprises no less than 6 distinct parties (some allied with Berlusconi, some with his opponents and some... with the best buyer), as well as on the mighty criminal organisations - profoundly merged with the state apparatus and the personnel of the bourgeois parties -, the (heavily state-subsidised) Church, support from foreign imperialists (NATO and EU) etc. This created a historical tendency toward fragile governments, easily blackmailed by small groups and lobbies with vested interests.
A sinking ship
Since 1989, alongside drastic changes in the World Order, the most farsighted section of the bourgeoisie has attempted to create a cheaper and more effective system of domination. The so-called Second Republic according to their plans would be modelled after countries like the USA, with federalism, a 2 party system, a strong stable government and a weak parliament, a mighty professional army etc. That would entail an important international role for Italy. They fundamentally failed this task, and Italy is presently "the sick man of Europe", as The Economist explained in 2005.
What is likely to have happened in this last chaotic fiasco is that Mastella & Co. have taken the scandal as "a pretext to do something he had been planning for a long time", as former anti-corruption judge Saverio Borrelli put it.
The coalition had exhausted all its energy a long time ago. The formation of the large Democratic Party (aiming for 30% of the vote) out of the merger of the Social Democrats (the Left Democrats) with some remnants of the Christian Democrats has only made things worse, because all the small parties immediately felt in danger.
Their worst nightmare came true when the new leader of the Democratic Party Walter Veltroni entered into a deal with Berlusconi in order to change the electoral law. They wanted to do that in such a way as to guarantee a big bonus to the bigger party of the winning coalition. That would undermine the future of all other parties, not only in the centre but also on the left. Such was the result of Rifondazione's support for the anti-Berlusconi coalition: the coalition leaders making agreements with Berlusconi precisely to wipe the Communists out of the parliament! And yet, that wasn't enough to cause any reaction by the leadership of the PRC, completely paralysed by the fear of harming the government.
On top of this, Rome's mayor Veltroni, just a few days before the crisis, openly announced the intention of having the Democrats run alone in the next elections, without any pre-established alliance. This provocative statement had an immediate destabilising effect, pushing the minor bourgeois parties into action.
Splits at the top
Most of the top echelons of the ruling class currently support the Democrats. Nevertheless, the political system has a dynamic of its own and the bourgeoisie's control on parliament is very loose and indirect. Berlusconi can buy a few MPs very easily, as could Prodi. Indeed, Prodi apparently managed to buy an UDEUR MP by hiring a friend of his in a government agency a few hours before the vote of confidence. However, that wasn't enough to save his government. As a reprisal, that MP was beaten and insulted in the very parliamentary hall by the other UDEUR MPs. The images of a Senator of the Republic spitting on another Senator's face has been broadcast by all TV stations, giving another good example of the rock-bottom level reached by Italy in its downwards spiralling decline.
The ruling class itself is divided, as graphically shown by two typical national representatives of Big Business. One is Silvio Berlusconi, the clownish histrionic tycoon, himself the leader of the right-wing coalition and the richest man in the country. On the other hand, we have Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a cultivated and cultured gentleman, president of Ferrari since 1991, president of FIAT since 2005 and president of the almighty industrial employers' organisation, Confindustria. This billionaire of aristocratic lineage is often boldly intervening on political issues, usually with a position quite similar to the Democratic Party. Many expect him to directly enter the political arena and eventually be elected head of the government (after all, didn't the president of Venezuelan Fedecámaras do the same after the anti-Chávez coup in 2002?).
The richest capitalist and the most influential capitalist of the country have two opposite opinions on the fall of the government.
Berlusconi wants immediate elections because he is likely to win. He opposes the new prime minister proposed by the President of the Republic, Franco Marini. He is also reported to have threatened to organise a mass mobilisation in Rome - unscrupulously defined by Berlusconi himself as "a march on Rome", like the Fascist demonstration in 1922 that led Mussolini to power... with His Majesty's consent.
Montezemolo has defined what happened in the Senate as "an unacceptable and indecorous show". He has attacked the political caste, using the example of Sicily's governor, who has just been sentenced to five years for having Mafia connections. His recipe for the country is a short-term "technical government" that could just complete the task of changing the electoral law, because "we need big reforms" but "citizens must decide, not the parties". This translates as a demand for a government supported by an unelected and unprincipled coalition of parties from the whole political spectrum - so much for his democratic concern for "citizens decide" as opposed to "parties decide"! The short-term government should work out a new law to give an artificial majority to the next anti-worker government. And who knows, maybe in the meantime this "technical" or "institutional" (i.e., non-political) government could also pass some laws that the entrepreneurs need so much...
This same position of delaying the elections and arranging some sort of a "limited-scope government" has the support of the Democratic Party, the bishops' organisation - it may sound strange outside Italy but the bishops always give their opinion on current political issues -, the shopkeepers' association, the presidents of both wings of parliament, one of which is the former secretary of Rifondazione Comunista, Fausto Bertinotti, and even a part of the right-wing coalition.
Reformist nonsense is no way out!
In the early 1990s, "technical governments" (Amato, Ciampi, Dini) have been responsible for passing the worst cuts against welfare, pensions, school, healthcare etc. Although Marini had been in the past the leader of the Christian Democrat trade union confederation (CISL), he is indeed another old face of bourgeois politics. He will be no better. This makes support for this new government given by some on the left, namely Rifondazione Comunista's leaders, even more absurd.
The official position of the party is now in favour of a government lasting a few months with the only purpose of making a new electoral law. When alleged Communists take the same stance as the leader of the employers' organisation, something bad is happening. And, usually, the ones who are getting it wrong are not the bosses.
After having dissipated a good deal of credibility by being part of a bourgeois government, Rifondazione would really reach its lowest point should it support the measures taken by an "institutional" government. Though this be madness, yet there is method in't. The rationale behind this madness is pretty simple to explain, provided one recognises that it is not a class rationale: it is a bureaucratic, reformist rationale. They are basically hoping to obtain an electoral law that could encourage the political experiment they have been planning over the past year.
In fact, since the formation of the Democratic Party, Rifondazione's leading faction has pursued the gradual dismantling of any remnant of a Communist Party in Italy. Their proposal is the creation of a new party through the merger of Rifondazione and the other Communist Party (PdCI) with the Greens and the Democratic Left, a Social Democrat organisation led by the Minister of Universities and tightly linked with the centre-left coalition.
This attempt echoes what the Spanish Communist Party did by creating Izquierda Unida and also the recent attempt by the French Communist leaders to liquidate the party.
The bureaucracy has an idea it cannot disclose: a Draconian electoral law could be instrumental in forcing the recalcitrant rank and file into accepting the liquidation, and a forceful and unprincipled merger with the Greens and the Social Democrats, for the sake of preserving a sizeable parliamentary presence. If this implied the abandonment of the hammer and sickle in the electoral logo, it would cause shock waves among the party members.
On the front page of Rifondazione's daily paper, Liberazione, issued the day when Prodi was expected to fall, Rina Gagliardi wrote an article with the title Why we lost the challenge. The "challenge" she talks about was indeed impossible to win: having a bourgeois government bring about progressive and pro-worker policies. Whoever accepts a challenge that is impossible to win cannot be considered much good.
Comrade Gagliardi's explanation of the reason why water has not been turned into wine is not very good either. In her opinion, Prodi didn't manage to be a radical leftist leader because "as a consequence of the lack of any attempt to reform our politics [...] he has submitted himself to the Establishment and the pressure of the lobbies". Oh really? He has not been progressive because he has been conservative because he failed in being progressive. The idea that Prodi is part of the Establishment doesn't seem to enter her mind.
Apart from this gobbledygook, this article is interesting because it shows the complete refusal by the Left's bureaucracies to recognise what is going on and to draw the necessary conclusions. The leaders of Rifondazione don't go to the point of directly surrendering to the ruling class, like Veltroni and the former majority of the Left Democrats did; nevertheless, they cannot accept to break with the bourgeoisie - or, in their own language, they cannot help submitting themselves to the Establishment and the pressure of the lobbies. They criticise the formation of the Democratic Party but they feel there is no alternative to an alliance with the same Democratic Party.
Rina Gagliardi writes: "[...] it's not legitimate to draw any sharp conclusion - like 'no more in government with the bourgeoisie'". Why not? This is exactly the "sharp" conclusion that the best militants of Rifondazione, the trade unions and the other left-wing organisations are drawing at this moment!
So, what is the solution according to comrade Gagliardi? A few lines below, the Holy Grail is found: the way out is "the new political subject", i.e. the unification with less militant organisations that are even closer and more tightly connected with the collapsed Prodi government and the Democratic Party.
As far as the International Marxist Tendency is concerned, we will do our best precisely to promote this rational and crystal-clear principle among the ranks of the Left and Rifondazione itself: no more in government with the bourgeoisie!
A social powder-keg
While this farce is staged at the top, real tragedies happen below.
The casualisation of labour has increased steadily in the last decade, as well as the worsening of work conditions and the uncontrolled growth of overtime.
The most dramatic results of this situation have been seen in a Turin steel factory, owned by the German multinational ThyssenKrupp, on December 6th and 7th, 2007. In an appalling accident, seven workers were seriously injured, burnt alive by a wave of hot oil. All of them eventually lost their lives over the following weeks.
The wrath and rage of Turin's working class boiled over when it was reported that some of these workers had been working for 12 hours at the time of the accident and that the proper safety measures had not been taken by the company. Fire extinguishers in the place where the fire began were out of service. However, "somebody" suddenly tried to replace them a few hours after the deadly accident...
A mass general strike has been locally called for, with a big protest march where an enraged mood was prevailing. The flowers sent by the company to the victims' families were destroyed by angry workers.
To further aggravate ThyssenKrupp's position, a private dossier written by some company managers was leaked to the newspapers. It contained a report with derogatory statements against the workers killed in the accident and their colleagues. It emerged from the dossier that ThyssenKrupp was waiting for the TV publicity to calm down in order to hit the surviving workers with disciplinary measures. The charge would be to have released public declarations blaming their colleagues' deaths on the company's poor safety standards. The dossier also complains about the "long Communist traditions" of the city that make it "unfavourable for our productive activity".
ThyssenKrupp AG is the result of the merger between two steel companies: Thyssen and Krupp. The traditions of the Krupps are quite different than the traditions of Turin's workers but they also seem to have preserved their political heritage. The Krupp Group was a key supporter of the Nazi regime and Alfried Krupp was sentenced to twelve years (he only served eight) in the Nuremberg Trials for the exploitation of slave labour provided by Hitler's war machine.
Even when such ominous peaks of economic horror aren't reached, the situation is still very serious for the average Italian working class household. The national bank has underlined that from 2000 to 2006 Italian salaries have stagnated in real terms. In the same period, a recent statistical study shows that prices for typical lower income families have grown up to three times faster than the official inflation rate. This means only one thing: the workers have been squeezed in an unprecedented way in the last years, but this pressure will sooner or later find a channel to express itself on the political scene.
We have already seen important mobilisations of the workers when Berlusconi was in power and also in the recent period. When Rifondazione and the other Communist Party called for a national demonstration to promote a left-wing agenda for the country, the whole of Rome turned red: flags with the hammer and sickle were everywhere in the streets, showing that thousands of militant rank and file Communists still exist in Italy, in spite of the long series of betrayals by their leaders.
The same happened with the metal workers' fight for the renewal of their collective bargaining agreement: when the unions called for strikes, the workers were always ready to fight. And yet, this movement too has been sold out by the unions' leadership.
This is just an example of the kind of explosions we will witness in the future. We can only imagine the effect that the current exposure of the rottenness of Italian politics and capitalism must be having on the most militant and conscious layers of the proletariat and the youth. Is this what we fought for?
The lack of the subjective factor, i.e. a revolutionary leadership capable of giving this rage and this will to fight a consistent political expression, poses a Herculean task to the Italian Marxists: connect with the masses, their revolutionary history and their traditional parties and unions, and prepare a socialist alternative to the rottenness of the Italian capitalism. This is the only real way out.
(Published on In Defence of Marxism, February 4th 2008)