As Italy’s premier Matteo Renzi and a clutch of his cronies were admitted by Obama to his final White House “do”, the substance behind the faux-carnival jollity was obvious — concern for the survival of Renzi’s government, and fears about how its fall could hit European and global financial and economic stability.
In the constitutional referendum promoted by Renzi and to be held on 4 December, the polls show yes and no neck-and-neck. Yet Renzi declared when he launched the referendum that he would resign if defeated. In September, the American Ambassador unequivocally declared his government’s full support.
On 18 October, Obama gave an even more emphatic endorsement from the White House steps, and underlined that Renzi should not leave office if he lost the vote. Renzi’s shameful record of loyalty to US demands — most recently, more troops for the Baltic states and the Russian border — has however done him no good among the working-class members and supporters of his Democratic Party, the bulk of whom will vote “no” , or with the xenophobic and racist right like the Northern League, who are virulently anti-Europe.
The referendum would make the Senate — at present equal in powers to the lower house of parliament — no longer able to bring down a government, and no longer directly elected. It is part of a plan to reinforce executive goverment power. As one of JP Morgan’s chiefs, recently appointed to rescue Italy’s oldest bank from another corruption scandal, declared: “the political systems of southern Europe... are unsuitable for strengthening the social integration we need; too influenced by socialist ideas, social protection of the rights of workers and their license to protest. Executive power is too weak constitutionally.”
The country is sliding further into decline and retreat, offering a vista of increasing demoraliation and collapse. That reality should be the leitmotif of a no campaign, led by the trade unions and the working poor. Instead, the unions have split.
The right-wing CISL and UIL support the government. CGIL has given belated and timid support for a no vote. The main “no” campaign is effectively hegemonised by the liberal professariat, a caste whose exclusive concern is, as they describe it, with “the technical and juridical merits of the case in question”. It thus leaves the masses at the mercy of Renzi’s populist claim that his measures will deliver the country from its historically corrupt and parasitic career-political class.
Another campaign, The Joint campaign for a Social No to the Constitutional Referendum, belatedly formed in late September, has brought together the remains of the various revolutionary currents, the Workers’ Communist Party, Communist Refoundation, Left Networks.
A demonstration in Rome on 22 October brought 5,000 or so onto the streets, and we must hope that the campaign will quickly seek to hammer out a radically sharpened and socially and politically distinct voice in weeks ahead which may witness a very rapid rise in the political temperature in Italy.