Twenty years ago, after the collapse of Italy’s first postwar republic, a fanfare greeted media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s accession to power as the new beginning for the perilously unstable economy and the fortunes of its chronically corrupt rulers.
Last weekend in Rome, we saw a rerun of the same pantomime.
Matteo Renzi, the newly-elected Blairite secretary of the Democratic Party in government, in a two-hour meeting with Berlusconi, not only legitimated the ex-con (and formally banished) tax crook as prospective founding father of a new Third Republic, but also connived with him in a new electoral law, as inimical to elementary democracy as the current one.
Underneath the hosannas of the “liberal” press (their “moral” revulsion of Berlusconi forgotten), the goal is to choke off further electoral and political dissent, allowing the trouble-free prosecution of the priorities that, if successful, will see Italian capitalism re-emerge as a major player in the European and world economy. Renzi incarnates the spirit of this “modern” liberal populism in the service of the most rampant sectors of the economy — agribusiness, design, fashion etc., the latter thriving on a wage system paying at most €8 an hour, and maintaining the near slavery of Chinese workers, as revealed in the tragedy of Prato two months ago, in which seven workers died in a factory fire.
Within the Democratic Party Renzi is a threat to its old guard of ex-Stalinists, Christian Democrats, and the extensive web of bureaucrats and officials within the trade union movement, local and regional government, and all the key apparatus of the capitalist state. At the moment the wind blows in his favour, though his abrupt decision to do a deal with Berlusconi, after his overtures to Beppe Grillo’s “5 Star Movement” were rejected, might backfire if Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s government should fall and new elections ensue in an even deeper climate of instability.
The disastrous legacy of Berlusconi and the onset of economic, political, and institutional crisis has inevitably resulted in a comprehensive dissolution of mass consent for the established political order and its dominant parties. The Italian working class, and its leaders in the trade unions and left political forces, are not currently fit to fight.
As Lenin pointed out, for as long as the victims of the exploiters fail to carve out the means and the road to challenge them and their system, the exploiters will find the way to survive.