Amidst the deepening uncertainities about how last weekend's elections in Italy will pan out, we can be sure of one thing only: whatever permutation of centre-left and /or centre-right forces that, neck and neck in the last published opinion polls, seem destined to form a government, the prospects it offers to the Italy's masses will be more of the same.
On this bourgeois opinion in Italy and everwhere else is in complete accord. The success of Mario Monti and his government of technocrats in imposing its programme of austerity is notable for two things — its across the board savagery aimed at both rights, conditions and income — the average working family is now 2000 euro worse off per year!— and how little resistance the onslaught has been met from the Italian trade unions and the left in general.
The relative subsidence of the euro crisis that over a year ago saw spreads on Italian 10 year bonds reach beyond the 500 euro mark and are now at around 300 euro, has the Vatican worthy to thank for playing a major part.
But, of course, he couldn't have achieved it alone. The two principle contenders in the elections — the Democratic Party of Pierluigi, Bersani and Berlusconi's Party of Liberty — gave their wholehearted backing to the principle and practical thrust of the Monti offensive, whatever selective reservations were opportunistically mouthed about "fairness", "protecting the weak", "strangling initiative" etc. Both of them pledged themselves to Monti's "fiscal pact", the achievement of balanced budgets — a goal now enshrined in the constitution! — and to the principle of wholesale restructuring of economic and social life needed to arrest the 20 year decline of the economy.
However when Berlusconi prematurely pulled the plug at the end of last year in his support for the government (Monti's period of office was due to end in April) — both parties suddenly discovered their anti-austerity credentials, all the more so as in order to bolster election fortunes they had to seek alliances with smaller parties critical or opposed to the Monti measures — The Left Ecology Party of Vendola, the racist Northern League of Maroni.
Berlusconi launched a massive media blitz against Monti and the "communist" Bersani, promising recklessly, to regain the support of the millions of his racist and bigoted petit-bourgeois following hit by the crisis, to undo some of the measures that capped their room for "creative accountancy" and dodgy manoeuvre. Of course in the same breath as he pandered to them he announced that his solution to find the resources to finance his largesse, and solve the crisis would be to cut public expenditure by 80 billion euro! His gamble has, so far, paid off as his stock began to rise in the polls; but so too did the spreads on the aforementioned bonds when the markets reacted to the serious prospect that once more Berlusconi's waywardness threatened chaos.
Perhaps this was a factor for why Bersanni and his party headed the polls from the off. Certainly it had little to do with what he was offering to the working masses, the bulk of them the victims of what he had backed in parliament. His pious and vague pledges of a feeble Keynesianism, and tax cuts to promote growth etc, to defend labour regulation already eroded with his party's consent; plus Vendola's more radical sounding platitudes regarding inequality, injustice, sexism and workers' rights, cannot hide from any thinking person that the party's victory is what the ruling classes are counting on as the surest guarantee of stability and business as usual. One cannot suppress the uncomfortable thought that the abject failure in the last year or so of each and every attempt at resistance on the ground , the widespread demoralisation engendered and felt everywhere, signal a setback so profound that the election of Bersanni is seen by masses of workers as the only and least worst scenario. Not surprisingly the leaders of the main trade union federation backing him , CGIL, think so.
And there lies the root of the issue, for as they do so now uncritically, so their pathetically feeble resistance against Monti can be laid at the door of a determination to do as little as possible to damage the credentials of the Democrats as a prospective party of bourgeois government rule; the living essence and quick of the Reformism of a caste responsible once more for today's debacle, and destined to produce further disasters if the outcome of the elections plunges the country into deepening political instability. That from within the unions nor the radical left emerged any coherent forces around a concrete anti-reformist political perspective challenging that caste speaks eloquently of the defeat.
For the bourgeoisie, itself, it is imperative that the Centre Party of Monti be in the position, at the very least, to occupy the role of stable opposition to any centre left administration — one ideally shorn of the tame radical phrasemongering of Vendola in order to encourage Berlusconi's more circumspect support to plump for the ever reliable Monti, especially for the Senate where the outcome hangs on regional voting patterns and weighting.
Whatever of Berlusconis presence to spoil the show, the other main contender, of course is Beppe Grillo with the 5 Star movement. Emerging as the largest force in the elections in Sicily several months ago, his radical, demagogic populist attack on the truly grotesque corruption, decay and hypocrisy of bourgeois Italy and its political system has tapped into the well of mounting anger, disgust and hatred among large sections of the population. So too his programme of an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical transparency in all aspects of public life, copper-fastened with an infrastucture of socially provided, ecologically sane public services.
As a further wave of corruption scandals hit the headlines two weeks ago his support has risen fast, tens of thousands now in the squares across the country as his speaking-tour ominously prepares for his last venue in Rome on Friday. But Grillo represents a sympton of crisis — of bourgeois rule on the one hand, and on the other, that of the paralysis of the working class and socialist movement. Among sections of bourgeois opinion and of the left there is a one-eyed view that the utopian, eclectic , half formed ideas of Grillo and the devoted network of "movement" disciples will like a house of cards collapse at the first serious tilt at institutional change to bourgeois order — a gigantic bluff exposed to the cold wind of reality.
They may be right. But the forces increasingly coming into political life around him indicate the outlines of a social bloc still in the process of being hammered into ideological shape by the force of events. Grillo is as much subject to these as anyone else.
Thus his declaration a few days ago that he hadn't reckoned on the movement being where it might be in a few days. It echoes Oliver Cromwell's remark regarding his own path to power "No one travels further than he who does not know where he is going".