With the stirring victory for Syriza and the subsequent 100,000-strong anti-austerity demonstration in Madrid, socialists might have hoped, for similar in Italy. It is, after all, second only to Greece in the parlous state of its public finances and the battering inflicted on its working people by pro-austerity governments.
All the more so having witnessed the joyful “bella ciao” greeting of 500 or so of the Italian left present in Athens to greet Tsipras's victory. Alas, they would be disappointed. Just as these events were taking place, the leaders of Italy's left “progressive” forces, inside and outside parliament were voting for, or celebrating the success of, Sergio Mattarella (Matteo Renzi's candidate), as the new president of the country. Sergio Mattarella is “a man noted for his love of social justice and the free-market”.
This is but the latest in the left's shameful capitulation to Renzi. And they now find themselves the toast of the opinion-makers for their sense of responsibility in ensuring the smooth transition to institutional stability of Renzi's government. A government which, in its brief reactionary existence has, with the passing of the Jobs Act, inflicted the most profound political defeat on the trade union and working class movement.
Less than a fortnight ago, the same people, at the instigation of Nicky Vendola, governor of Puglia and leader of the Left, Ecology and Freedom party had gathered in Milan for a convention titled The Human Factor. This was meant to “explore tentatively the possibility to create a new subject”, i.e. a new party. Only the title distinguishes this three-day initiative from the countless other such exercises reconfiguring the forces that imploded after the defeat of the last Prodi-led government in which leaders like Vendola or Paolo Ferrero of the now shriveled, faction-ridden Communist Refoundation held ministerial office.
This latest attempt at an opportunist lash-up had little to do with what was unfolding in Greece, apart from the rhetoric. The leaders and the outfits they preside over have long abandoned any perspective of mass working-class led struggle as the key to social and political change. Rather it was their ignominious failure to offer even token opposition to Renzi's Jobs Act. Rather than risk a government defeat in the Senate, and thus the possibility of an election , they abandoned the building before the vote on the Act.
The Human Factor produced little and remains “work in progress” or another dead letter.
Meanwhile the crisis in Italy's left and trade union forces has been revealed in a different way by the leader of the metalworkers union, Maurizio Landini's conversion to the ideas of Hardt and Negri.
In an interview he calls into question the capacity of the workers movement and the traditional tactic of the strike to address the issues characterising contemporary capitalism. He claims unions need to embrace the perspective of the “social strike” as the instrument for the voluntaristic mobilization of the vast archipelago of persons now constituted by the new form of capitalist dominion — the multitude.
Of course, sadly, these ideas are not new in Italy where they have long held sway among masses of the student movements, in social centres in all the major cities and support is growing.
That Landini seems to share these ideas is a worrying indication of disintegrating support for class struggle organisation, on the heels of so many setbacks and failures.
On the other hand we shouldn't forget that the likes of Landini,bear almost complete responsibility for the debacle of the largely symbolic resistance to the government. Landini, a one time member of the Stalinist Italian Communist Party has never figured as anything other than — for a period — as a militant trade union leader on issues of wages and conditions for his members. He has never had anything but an arrogant and philistine contempt for any suggestion that trade unions should concern themselves with political issues and perspectives. Along with a scrum of worthy liberal academics and constitutionalists he fronted the last year's farcical campaign to, as he put it,”implement the only revolutionary document Italians (sic) need, namely the Italian constitution”. In the same interview he mentions the book he was now reading was the latest by the Pope — “the most left-wing analysis in the country”.
Given that the pontiff has a 2,000 year head start in matter of minting and offering to the masses pious abstractions perhaps Landini can recruit him to the multitude.