Italy: a shift in the political centre

Submitted by Matthew on 22 March, 2017 - 10:38 Author: Hugh Edwards

At its recent conference Italy’s governing party, il Partito Democratico (PD), split. This follows a massive defeat in the December 2016 referendum for party leader and head of government Matteo Renzi.

Defeat and a subsequent resignation as premier did not stop Renzi from deciding to remain as leader of the party. And at the party convention he gave no quarter to his opponents — representing a diffuse spectrum of left /liberal forces. He declared for a general election in June, reiterating the need for him to keep hold of the power of the party leader so as to control the selection of electoral lists and mandates.

A rupture has been developing ever since Renzi rose from relative anonymity and political obscurity to the heights of party leader, then, after ruthlessly shafting the then incumbent, seized the office of premier. Renzi stamped on both government and party and centralised management and control, surrounding himself with young fanatic loyalists, openly and contemptuously humiliating and marginalising older leaders.

The split is a vindictive retort of those usurped forces who considered Renzi as an abusive interloper in “their” party. The split consists of 30 members of the Camera, 15 in the Senate. It seems unlikely to become a new party; its name, Democrats and Progressives Movement, suggests a profile as vague as it is tentative. The principal political components come from the camp of the left/liberal bourgeoisie, associated with Massimo d’Alema and Pierluigi Bersani.

Both are former Stalinist leaders in the Communist Party who, after 1989, were principal actors in the formation and progressive mutation of, first, the Social Democratic Party of the Left (PDL); then the Democrats, to finally to embrace in 1996 the Left/ Liberal centre of the Democratic Party in the “Olive Tree” coalition government headed by Romano Prodi.

The former Stalinists’ historic links to the Italian trade union movement served to help impose a programme of ruthless fiscal, monetary and social counter-reform demanded as a condition of Italy’s fitness to join the single currency. Beneath the cant about Renzi’s awful treatment of ordinary people, the splitters are more than eager — again in tandem with marginalised union bureaucrats — to rise to become trustworthy servants of capital.

There are a number of groups and figures more explicitly pointing to the need for a more social democratic orientation, even the notion of an explicitly working-class party. The details remain unclear. As to the “radical” left, Sinistra Italiana (SI), a group of them have abandoned their party in order to join up with D’Alema. As events unfold in what has effectively been a shift in the centre of gravity of the Italian political system, the PD crisis will deepen further.

As the European bank prepares to raise interest rates and end Quantitative Easing, the vulnerability of the country to any systemic shock is apparent. Meanwhile the Five Star Movement is ahead in the opinion polls and in spite, or because of, its congenital incoherence, it might just light a fuse in Italian politics.