Giorgio Cremaschi on recent regional elections in Italy that saw wins for PM Renzi but also a sharp decline in voter turn-out and a revival in the xenophobic Northern League.
To me it is not surprising that prime minister Matteo Renzi exhales the success of the his Democratic Party ( PD) in the regional elections, ignoring, indeed even showing some satisfaction, that in Emilia Romagna only one in three voted. When only recently nine out of ten cast their vote. In the conception of authoritarian governance and decisionismo* – of which the PD leader and PM is the latest exponent – popular participation is just an inconvenience or a nuisance. If three people vote and you are sure of obtaining the consent of two of them this is fine, indeed the fewer the better. Others must simply obey.
Mussolini claimed that he had not invented fascism, rather he had just taken it from among the Italians and organised it. For Renzi it is the same. For years, government programs have been bound by the dictates of the markets, the EU, big finance, and also the government of another country, Germany. For years, the citizens of this country have been educated to believe in the helplessness and uselessness of a democracy where the fundamental decisions are already made elsewhere. And when the country’s President preaches this cultural and psychological, as well as political, submission the whole constitutional system suffers.
Democracy with limited sovereignty has been linked with two factors that have been agitating Italian society for decades. The first is the trivialisation and the depoliticisation of political debate, whose ultimate expression was the Second Republic of Silvio Berlusconi. The second is the spirit of [the French counter-revolutionary revolt of] Vendee against labour and rights that for more than thirty years has been unleashed at every economic difficulty. The government of Socialist PM Bettino Craxi in the 1980s had already anticipated the language and behaviour of Matteo Renzi, but in order for decisionismo to become a neo-liberal regime all three underlying conditions must be met – not just one. A democracy reduced to suffer foreign orders on issues for which it was born – the state budget; the destruction of participation in elections and the reduction of political debate into talk shows; the war between the poor as the only outlet for popular impotence over fundamental decisions. It is out of the fusion of these three degenerative processes in our society that Matteo Renzi’s success has grown – and also that of his namesake Salvini, the new leader of the Northern League.
The two Matteos share between them the support of the few remaining voters, because they best represent the self-destruction of our democracy. They are very similar in their way of thinking and presenting themselves, and perhaps they are even interchangeable. And this, not only due to their youth, but in how, amid the collapse of support for the old leadership, they were projected from an obscure bureaucratic career into leading positions, thanks to the media and their training, when young, on Berlusconi’s TV quiz shows.
The real point they have in common is Reaction. Renzi started wanting to beat his fists in Europe and against the powers that be and now beats them only against trade unions, strikes and labour rights. These are referred to as the real obstacles, or in other versions of his discourse, as alibis stopping companies from investing. For Renzi the wheel of fortune has spun around and eventually stopped on jobs, those still unionized and protected by some residual rights. They are the enemy of the young, the unemployed, meritocracy, growth and of course those companies that finance Renzi with 1,000 euro dinner tickets.
Matteo Salvini has launched attacks against the banks, the euro and finance etc. But in the media you will only read of his fire against migrants and Roma and allying with explicitly fascist and racist forces. For the average Italian, Renzi and Salvini point to the only opponent at hand, the neighbour who is a [striking] metalworker, or civil servant, or migrant. They are referred to as the cause of the trouble, along with their unions and the radical social centres. Renzi and Salvini feed their wars on the poor, in competition with each other, in order to present themselves as the alternating, two-party solution amid the democratic devastation. That most people do not go to vote, apart from their supporters, suits the two leaders just fine. Both are sons of neo-liberal ideology for which the ultimate prize is the privatization of democracy itself.
There is no easy solution to this. Economic crisis and democratic degradation feed each other and to escape both we must rebuild the struggle against opponents who are not our neighbours. For this reason strikes and social movements – the real struggles – are feared by both Matteos. Because if they were to grow and consolidate, they would lose their centrality and leadership. The regional vote places the majority of the Italian population outside parliament. Today it is a success for Renzi and Salvini, tomorrow may be their condemnation. But for this to happen all who are opposed to the regime of the two Matteos must find the same determination, the same cultural dimension and will for real change, in the spirit of the Resistance and our liberation from fascism.
*Decisionism: it is not the content of the decision, but rather the fact that it is a decision made by the proper authority, or by using a correct method, which determines its validity. Used to justify Nazism (“Der Führer has made the law, der Führer protects the law” – Carl Schmitt.