In 1992 Italy was engulfed by the corruption scandal “Tangentopoli” (bribesville). That, Italy’s most serious post-war political crisis, saw the end of the First Republic and all its major political parties.
Leading the mass protests outside and inside parliament was the Lega Nord, led by the populist figure of Umberto Bossi. He encapsulated the radical mood and spirit of his party’s programme by waving a noose and bellowing “Roma ladrona” at the ranks of cowering politicians who were only too aware that their game was up.
Twenty years later the party that defined itself as “anti system” has revealed itself a model of that most characteristic feature of Italian bourgeois politics — the so pious and venerated Italian “family” on the take on a massive scale.
From the odious Bossi — ex Minister of Institutional Reform! — his wife and even more cretinous sons, a picture has emerged of a vast squalid network of nepotism and cronyism, involving billions of public funds. Not only funds paid to the political parties by the state but widespread involvement in money-laundering, recycling and illegal investment in a series of dodgy schemes both in Italy and abroad.
It could not have been otherwise, as this party has been a decisive constituent part of bourgeois political rule in the Second Republic. Without its support Berlusconi would have been unable to form any of his three governments in the last 20 years. Notwithstanding its never-ending lying, populist self-references as “radical”, voicing and championing the grievances of the “people of Padania” (a pure figment), Bossi and co. have voted for and sustained every anti-working-class measure demanded by the bosses.
For example in 1992/3, in “opposition”, it supported the destruction of la Scala mobile — a rising scale of wages to protect against inflation — won by the mass struggles of the late 60s and 70s.
As part of a centre left coalition in 1995 it supported the first reactionary reform of the welfare and pension system.
With Berlusconi it has been central to the emergence of flexible labour — more than 40 types of contracts! — agreed to by the very confederal unions who now claim to be so concerned about the welfare of the victims of those conditions.
And with Berlusconi and his Economics Minister, Tremonti — a sympathiser of the League — it has presided over the the systematic and wholesale devastation of the public school system, health and welfare, as billions are sucked from the local state coffers to pay interest to banks and finance houses. It has overseen billions being funnelled to the schools and colleges of the Catholic Church and other unscrupulous tin-pot outfits.
Ironically, at the point of its maximum success with the victory of the last Berlusconi government, when it extended its power to the regions of Piedmont and Veneto, the onset of the financial and economic crisis signalled the beginning of the League’s decline.
The north and northeast industrial base had suffered as Italy lost out to the ruthless competitive dynamic of globalisation.
Unemployment began to rise in the heartlands of the League. Berlusconi and Bossi continued to deny there was a crisis, as they sought to protect their bases of support by channeling resources their way.
The arrival of the technocrat Monti and his government further deepened the problems for the party. Monti’s emergency budgets have savagely diminished the redistribution of resources from the centre to the regions and communities, where the effective political and administrative control of the League had orchestrated a gigantic machine of patronage, especially among the small business world.
So, the last of Bossi and Maroni’s stunts to keep their support happy — fiscal federalism — has gone up in smoke. The internal contradictions, everywhere present in the organisation of cliques grouped around the authoritarian “cell” of the political parliamentary leadership, have imploded.
The revelations of systematic and massive corruption have unmasked this gang of ruthless, lying and murderous charlatans. The millions who voted for them, bought into their cynically manufactured fantasies, echoed their homophobic and sexist ravings, saluted their racist laws, cheered along with them as boatloads of immigrants littered the bed of the Mediterranean, are now deserting them.
The coming administrative elections may give the first indications. Meanwhile former Minister of the Interior Maroni has taken over the reins of power in the League. Maroni is as guilty as all the others, and the crazed Bossi supporters are gunning for him, as, too other local chiefs in other regions seek to save their neck and their power.
A process of “Balkanisation” might ensue, especially if Bossi is forced out — though without him it may be impossible to maintain the integral topographical sense of the “unity” of “Padania” that has defined the party’s reactionary essence.
Maroni knows that if it survives, other alliances with the left-centre parties may be on the agenda, while the former fascist Tosi in Verona is already stoking the fires of more extreme racism and chauvinism to hold on to the poisonous base of that region, especially among the young.
The dynamic at work is impossible to predict but what is absolutely clear is that the crisis of the League is a precious opportunity to expose, before the masses and young hegemonised by it, its fundamentally anti-working class, racist nature and its role as a criminal accomplice to the putrescent capitalist order of contemporary Italy.
The rise to power of the League reflected its capacity to exploit, in the most poisonously mystificatory way, genuine anger and suffering among the masses of the north. That it could do that underscores the complete bankruptcy of the left-wing parties and movements, along with the trade union movement, whose leadership is today the instrument embracing and advocating class collaboration among the working masses.
To revolutionaries falls the task of turning anger against real enemies, those whose system must be challenged politically and practically at every point, to be finally overthrown if we are to be rid of creatures like Bossi and his party forever.