In the early 90s, Italy — in the midst of a deepening economic and financial crisis — was shaken by the most serious political events since the rise of fascism in the 20s.
A systematic and widespread network of corruption amongst the political establishment and big business was exposed. Bribery and embezzlement were now the modus operandi of the Government itself, orchestrated cynically by the then coalition-Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.
The “Tangentopoli” (“Bribesville”) scandal brought down the post-war political order of the First Republic and the centre-right Christian Democracy under whose hegemony Italian capitalism and its bourgeoisie emerged as a significant force in Europe and the world.
The “self-made” billionaire entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi and his new party, Forza Italia, in alliance with the populist Lega Nord, won the first post-Tangentopoli elections. On his government rested the hopes — the fantasy! — of not only the economic and financial world in Italy (and elsewhere), but every vehicle of the most profound reaction in the country — led, of course, by the Vatican — that Berlusconi, the corrupt, depraved criminal and Mafia associate from Milan, would whip into competitive and moral shape a society the Christian Democratic burghers of its First Republic had brought to the edge of the abyss.
The truth is, as current events graphically show, “Bribesville” never disappeared. The “fundamentals” that have long defined Italy’s obscene reality have swollen exponentially to an unstoppable, poisonous tide, sweeping across every part of economic and social life — tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement, bribery, blackmail and, as Roberto Saviano’s novel Gomorra indicated, the influence and consolidation of the criminal world at every point.
It needed the markets to unseat Berlusconi, and the arrival of the technocrats led by the pious Monti, a denizen of some archaic Vatican sect, to provide a focus for the despair, frustration, impotence, and confusion at the heart of the widespread “anti-political” sentiment in the country.
Though from the financial sector he was popularly received as an honest man! Even the fact that the most enthusiastic support for the savagery of his austerity measures came from the now dismissed political forces did not, initially, qualify that.
But as the ferocity of the attacks on conditions and rights have continued to fall on the working masses, and the paucity of the measures, despite the rhetoric, against the rich and powerful everywhere, a sea-change is observable.
It began with the corruption scandals that have rocked the Lega Nord, then the dissolution of the council of Reggio Calabria for mafia infiltration (the 52nd time it has occurred!).
Most recently, the collapse of the regional government of Lazio in Rome, and Lombardia (Milan).
Lazio, led by a neo-fascist governor in Berlusconi’s party, involved literally and “legally” the wholesale theft of millions of public funds (Italians are compelled to contribute to all major political parties, as they also must make to all the major bourgeois newspapers) by council members.
Lombardia, again of the right unchallenged in power and mired in filth of every kind since 1995, revealed a thriving network of votes for cash, run by the Calabrian mafia, securing both the election of officers and the mafia grip on the lucrative market of public administration contracts.
A recent report states that half the regional councils may be in their hands in the north. Similar eruptions are occurring in regions like Piedmonte, Emiglia Romagnia, and other cities. Symptomatically the opinion polls speak of the end of the honeymoon with Monti and the collapse of the centre-right parties. The centre left leads, just ahead of the “5 Star Movement” of Beppe Grillo. The abstentionist current stands at nearly 30%!
With new elections following the end of Monti’s term in office in March, such a picture is anything but reassuring to the EU/ECB/IMF Troika and the markets. So far, from their point of view, Monti has done well, with the spreads on Italian bonds at their lowest since the crisis began.
But a political crisis is looming, if the “anti-political” anger grows side by side with widening social protests and disorder. With the eclipse of the right, the spineless centre left looks to be the only political base for the bourgeoisie to offer the “democratic” option. That is why the pressure on Monti increases, as a rallying point for a “responsible” opposition.
The putrefaction of Italy’s institutions and political life has always been evident underneath a veneer of bourgeois civility.
What happened in Genoa in 2001, when Italian police violently repressed anti-capitalist demonstrators and murdered Carlo Guiliani, a young activist, should warn us of what may be in store.