This is the description of Marco Travagio, Italy’s finest radical journalist, of the decision of Friday 19 April by electors in Italy’s lower house to return 87 year old Giorgio Napolitano to the office of president, only weeks after a seven-year stint in the role ended.
“The scene supersedes the most hallucinatory fantasies of the masters of horror, Stephen King or Dario Argento. The putrefying, evil smelling corpse of a rotting system, corrupted and squashed by the weight of cliques, cabals and mafia of every sort, of bribes, blackmail and endless plots, barricades itself in the tomb, nailing the cover from within to prevent the stench and worms escaping. It attempts the impossible; to arrest the decay and recompose itself. And chooses a gravedigger in its own image…”
His election is but the latest deepening of the crisis resulting from the elections of nearly two months ago. This is near total stalemate in both houses of parliament, where the centre-left Democratic Party, PD, the centre-right People of Freedom Party, PDL, and the “Five Star Movement”, (M5S) of Beppe Grillo each have enough seats in one or the other of the houses to prevent the formation of a government without them.
The job of forming a government fell automatically to Napolitano, in what seemed then to be his last weeks as president.
Negotiations between the PD and M5S barely got off the ground. The aspirations of Nichi Vendola of Left Ecology and Freedom Party (SEL) and others among the left outside parliament, for a left government were a fantasy.
The PD was the party on which the technocratic government of Monti, and through him the Italian bourgeoisie, had most relied.
Monti’s job, as he had said himself, had only begun. Still in office while the coalition-forming negotiations circus of “will they, won’t they?” was being played out, Monti was drawing up future plans for structural reform in public and economic life and further cuts of €40 billion, to be examined in Brussels and then returned to the prospective new government as a done deal.
Notwithstanding the relentless decline of the economy, the severely deteriorating conditions of life for millions, periodic waves of protest and dissent, and the backwardness in so many areas of cultural and political rights, bourgeois rule has never been seriously threatened. One of keys to that has been increasingly prominent role of the President.
It was Napolitano who ruthlessly defenestrated Berlusconi as the financial crisis erupted 18 months ago. Along with his ex-Stalinist crony Bersani, Napolitano waved aside the automatic right to elections and ushered in the technocrats ordered by Brussels.
The election of a new president last week brought all this to the surface. Grillo had proposed a roster of impeccably liberal “neutral” candidates, from the spheres of law, academia, journalism, etc., inviting the belief that if Bersani would support their candidate (a radical jurist and former “independent” member of the Communist Party), support for a Bersani government might be on the cards.
The proposal had wider support in the PD outside parliament, but Bersani held back. On Thursday 18 April, he announced his selection — a former Christian Democrat turned Democrat (after the Christian Democrats’ extinction), a devoted Catholic and ex-leader of the yellow Catholic trade union CISL — who, surprise surprise, immediately got the support of Berlusconi and the Northern League.
The utterly cynical stitch up, prepared well ahead by the parties concerned and with the connivance of Napolitano, revealed the desperation of the ruling powers.
But it didn’t go smoothly. The base of the Democrats revolted, as did some of their new deputies.
Ominously, so too did the Blairite wing led by Matteo Renzi, the “modernising” Mayor of Florence. Bersani’s and Berlusconi’s man didn’t get enough votes to win.
Bersani then proposed former Prime Minister Romano Prodi. That met with widespread opposition. Huge cracks began to develop within the PD, with many calling for a new leadership or even a new party.
To prevent an even worse fallout, Napolitano was invited back, and accepted, a gesture violating the constitution and flying in the face of his previous reiterated refusals to even consider such a thing.
The bourgeois media, true to form, immediately sprung into action to repair the damage. Headlines sang hosannas to the return of the “national saviour”.
With the PD on the point of dissolution, Berlusconi will, though not directly, now play the major role whatever setup Napolitano will announce.
One thing is clear — Italy has inched further into a crisis whose disastrous effects at every level favour the growth of reaction in every form. The possibility of a victory for Alba Dorata, an Italian offshoot of Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, in local polls in one of the poorest parts of the Abruzzi region in the south, must be a wakeup call to the serious Italian left.
The many calls for the unity of the left in the past weeks signal the despair and confusion. Vendola call for the creation of a new “left party of government”, indicating his wish to head up a reconfigured PD — reformist from head to toe, like Vendola himself. The Party of Communist Refoundation (Rifondazione Communista) too has called for a new united revolutionary left, premised on its leader’s admissions of the grave errors of tactics and strategy committed in the past.
The situation is critical. Action now will be the proof that the tide can and must be turned.