Italy’s general election has produced a stalemate.
The electoral coalition headed by the Democratic Party’s Pier Luigi Bersani has failed to get a working majority. The populist Five Star Movement has done well. Writing before the result, Hugh Edwards looks at the background.
All the major parties are committed to austerity. Both the Democratic Party of Pierluigi, Bersani and Berlusconi’s Party of Liberty gave their wholehearted backing to the principle and practical thrust of the offensive of Mario Monti’s “technocrat” government, with only a few selective reservations.
Both of them pledged themselves to Monti’s “fiscal pact”, the achievement of balanced budgets — a goal now enshrined in the constitution! — and to wholesale restructuring of economic and social life.
Then Berlusconi pulled the plug at the end of last year, withdrawing support for the government, and the Democrats too suddenly discovered their anti-austerity credentials.
Berlusconi launched a massive media blitz against Monti and the “communist” Bersani, promising to regain the support of the millions of his racist and bigoted petit-bourgeois following hit by the crisis and to undo some of the measures that capped their room for “creative accountancy” and dodgy manoeuvre.
He announced that to find the resources to finance his largesse and solve the crisis, he would cut public expenditure by 80 billion euros.
Bersani made pious and vague pledges of a feeble Keynesianism, tax cuts to promote growth, and defence of labour regulation already eroded with his party’s consent. The more radical sounding platitudes regarding inequality from his coalition partner Vendola could not hide the fact that the Democratic Party’s victory was what the ruling classes were 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 every attempt at resistance on the ground has signalled a setback so profound that the election of Bersani was seen by workers as the only and least-worst scenario. The leaders of the main trade union federation backing him, CGIL, think so.
The other main contender, Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star movement, emerged as the largest force in the elections in Sicily several months ago, with demagogic populist attack on the grotesque corruption, decay and hypocrisy of bourgeois Italy.
It has tapped into the well of mounting anger. Grillo’s programme of an egalitarian, anti-hierarchical transparency in all aspects of public life, copper-fastened with an infrastructure of socially provided, ecologically sane public services, also appeals.
But Grillo represents a symptom 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 his network of “movement” disciples will collapse like a house of cards at the first serious tilt.
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”.