Italy’s “Government of Change”: History as Farce

Italy’s “Government of Change”: History as Farce

The new populist “government of change” made up of the anti-European Five Star Movement and the racist Lega (The League, formerly the Lega Nord or Northern League) has begun to adopt some of the same empty rhetoric of the past. Their target is not much different from the fascist anti-semitism of the past. Whilst their main guns are today trained at the EU they also point to the nefarious activities of “financiers like Soros”. George Soros is of course the target of the anti-semitic campaign of Orbans in Hungary. According to these “populists” the problem is not capitalism but only some aspects of it.

The Italian title of this translation “Me ne frego” carries a political significance which requires some explanation. The original phrase comes from a song sung by fanatically nationalist soldiers known as “arditi” (the daring ones) as they went into battle in the First World War. It can be translated as “I don’t give a fuck” (the standard dictionary will say “I don’t care”) and even today is still regarded as vulgar. After the war Italian nationalists felt Italy had been cheated of its just reward by the other allies and the now demobilised “arditi” joined Gabriele D’Annunzio’s expedition to seize Fiume (now Rijeka) in 1919. Their posturing movement was ousted after a year. D’Annunzio, more famous as a poet, now provided much of the bombastic and boastful language adopted by the great windbag Mussolini and his Fascist movement which also adopted, not just the slogan of “me ne frego” but even turned it into the cynical political attitude of “menefreghismo” (could not care less) which characterised the fascist regime.

Today, as we demonstrated in our last translation1, the new populist “government of change” made up of the anti-European Five Star Movement and the racist Lega (The League, formerly the Lega Nord or Northern League) has begun to adopt some of the same empty rhetoric of the past. Their target is not much different from the fascist anti-semitism of the past. Whilst their main guns are today trained at the EU they also point to the nefarious activities of “financiers like Soros”. George Soros is of course the target of the anti-semitic campaign of Orbans in Hungary. According to these “populists” the problem is not capitalism but only some aspects of it. The two Deputy Prime Ministers2, the League’s Salvini and the Five Star’s Di Maio has even made the talk of “the spread”, i.e. the difference between what Italy has to pay for its debt over that of Germany, an everyday preoccupation since it threatens the fantasy behind their spending agenda.

The previous “left” government of Matteo Renzi had accepted all the rules of the EU and the globalised capitalist game. This was OK when the economy was booming (on the basis of financial speculation unprecedented in history) but once the bubble burst the room for social democratic reformism collapsed and the same “left” now turned their attacks on the working class (see the previous article in footnote 1) creating unemployment amongst the young of 30 per cent or more. This paved the way for the victory of the “populist” coalition who promised not only to kick out migrants (the League) but a universal basic income (the Five Star Movement). The League has had no trouble getting its simple racist message across whilst the Five Star Movement have no chance of implementing their plans for a basic income given the state’s indebtedness – but Brussels spending limits are a useful alibi. Empty rhetoric meanwhile fills the void. Instead of a universal basic income the Government offers a “Dignity Decree” which claims to put an end some precarious work practices but no-one really believes it. As the article makes clear, the working class who have suffered so much will continue to suffer as the prognosis for the Italian economy is stagnation for the next two decades. But as long as there is an external enemy to blame “Italy for the Italians” will work (at least for now) its nationalist poison not just amongst the petty bourgeois supporters of the current government, but even within sections of the working class.


Me ne frego!

Perhaps Hegel never said that history always repeats itself, but the famous modification by Marx, that it does, only the second time as farce, continues to evoke comment on what is happening in the colourful world of bourgeois politics. Of course, it would be an exaggeration to always take the "joke" literally, but it is also true that sometimes the temptation to find similarities with other historical epochs is strong, given the sordid spectacles that bourgeois politicos never cease to offer us. The "government of change" lends itself well to this temptation, particularly in these tumultuous days (end of September-early October) as it reveals the financial proposal which is finally supposed to put their dreams into practice, that is to say the electoral promises which gave the two parties of the coalition a Parliamentary majority and, it seems, with the increasing consent of “the people”.

It is not our intention to analyse their financial juggling here. In the absence of specific data, it is virtually impossible. At the moment, all that we can do is to record what was taken for granted, that is to say, the opposition of the governing bodies of the European Union to a financial law that not only does not reduce the deficit, but raises it well beyond the level that the Economy Minister himself had set as a limit that Brussels might tolerate. As is well known, to resort to a deficit, or rather to increase it, means spending without having the necessary funds, in the conviction – or rather, the illusion – that through increasing debt new wealth will be created, and this will repay creditors. This is undoubtedly a simplification but, in substance, it is what not only the two Deputy Prime Ministers think, but also the cream of expert economists of this ruling reformist circus. In capitalist terms their economic theory would seem odd even to a child, let alone to those who control the economy. Their incompetence and political adventurism, runs the risk of further damaging a capitalist economy that is already dangerously under strain because of the crisis.

A crisis that, we repeat for the umpteenth time, is far from over, and is deeper in Italy than in most other countries. There are a number of reasons for this, not least, a public debt over 130% of GDP and which is still growing. If the president of Confindustria has let slip explicit – and unusual – words of appreciation for the League (he then corrected himself), it is perhaps because a part of the boss class votes for the ex(?)-Padanian3 party. However the expressions some bigwigs of Italian capitalism used to describe the government were quite different in tone. If the term "infuriating" were used against the two Deputy Prime Ministers, it would be no surprise, given what emerged at the meeting of the Federazione dei Cavalieri del Lavoro (Federation of the Knights of Labour), held in Turin on 29 September. Il Sole 24 ore (30 September)4 does not say whether there were workers among the “knights” and, in any case, whether they were present, or were silent or said nothing relevant, because this Confindustria mouthpiece only recorded the comments of the big players, who unanimously agreed to mercilessly crush the financial plan and, above all, the so-called citizens income.

The latter measure, in particular, is condemned outright, because it is considered pure welfare, unproductive expenditure, therefore a shameful waste of public money, which should be used in a completely different way. They, the capitalists, say this should be used for development, for investment, which means going directly into their own pockets and not those of the poor, who the newspapers of the centre-right (and therefore also the League) call, with aristocratic elegance, "slackers". "A disaster", "sorcerer's apprentices", "barroom chatter", "the absolute denial of the main path that the country should take": this is how the "upper levels" of Italian capitalism have variously expressed themselves. Not very encouraging for those who suddenly found themselves at the head of the state, which is after all a political instrument belonging exclusively to the bourgeoisie, and not all "Italians". But, and here we return to Hegel (as well as to Marx), it is not the first time that a perfect nullity has risen to rule because it happened to be lying around when the tide of history swept in. Chatter, bravado, cynicism, demagogy are the weapons they will use to try to stay on the crest of the wave and until their bubble bursts, they may even "get by" very well, for years.

The performance of “Deputy Prime Ministers” has only just started, so we cannot predict how long the show will be on stage, but of course, the style of the two principals has already been outlined. It is a style that recalls other characters, and other times. Salvini in particular, assumes indeed, increasingly accentuates a posture and a language that, if born and defined by the Bard (that great c... of D'Annunzio), reached its apotheosis in Il Duce of Fascism, Benito Mussolini. These characters reached almost unparalleled heights in the art of smoke and mirrors and now their Padanian offspring tries to take up the legacy, in verbal terms sure, but, in some ways, not only that. Are the strong powers in the European Union, against the people? ME NE FREGO! I'm going on the same way, which is the equivalent of Mussolini's machismo motto NOI TIREREMO DIRITTO (nothing will stop us)! We are only missing WE WILL make mincemeat of the SPREAD!5, that is to say to the clique (not that democratic-Plutocratic-Jewish one of fascist imagination, but the cosmopolitan elite of Frankfurt) and here history is really repeating itself as farce.

But a farce which of course, will cost wage workers dear, as well as those who are getting angry about underemployment, unemployment, and increasingly meagre pensions. Condemning one aspect of capitalism as a means of saving the system as a whole is a constant that is often found among social reformers, among those "saviours of the homeland", among those "elected by the people". However neither respect for the EU rules nor their rejection (partial or total) in the name of a fairer and more national capitalism will alter the condition of the wage-earning masses by one iota whether in “safe” or precarious jobs. Neither the cold language of the "Eurocrats" nor the flamboyant language of these populist charlatans can solve the crisis and thus change the conditions of existence of the proletariat for the better. On the contrary, whether the former continue to impose themselves, or the latter take over (which is unlikely, unless events dramatically alter), things can only get worse for the proletariat. If the crisis does not end – and all indications suggest it is getting worse – it will be the demands of capital that will, as ever, dictate the political agenda for both "Europhiles" and "Populists".

Thursday, October 4, 2018

  • 1. See:
  • 2. The Prime Minister Conte is widely regarded as a puppet of the two Deputy Prime Ministers. Salvini is the main gainer so far as he as Minister of the Interior by talking tough on immigration (and refusing to allow the migrant rescue ship Valeria to dock in Italy) has boosted his standing in the polls.
  • 3. The original Northern League was a separatist party and wanted to create “Padania” (the territory around the Po Valley in Northern Italy) hiving off the rich North from the poor South of the country.
  • 4. Italian equivalent of the Financial Times. Confindustria is the equivalent of the bosses organisation the CBI in the UK.
  • 5. For “spread” read “the Greeks” Mussolini said something to the effect that he would soon defeat the Greeks when he invaded in 1940. The Italian Army was humiliated and Hitler had to send in German troops to save it from catastrophe.