Despite only getting 17% of the votes compared to about 30% for their coalition partners in the Five Star Movement, Matteo Salvini leader of La Lega (The League) has seized the opportunity as deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior to become the most dominant force in the new coalition of “populist parties”. The successive speeches about registering Roma (reminiscent of what happened to Italian Jews in 1938 as preparation for their annihilation in the Holocaust) may have caused outrage, but behind it has come the racist attacks in the street.
In the two months since the so-called “government of change” came into office there have been 12 shootings (mostly by airguns but one victim was a 13 month old Roma girl who, shot in the back, may now be paralysed), 2 murders and 33 assaults. An African man was beaten to death by two young Italians, and Daisy Osakue, a prominent record-breaking Italian athlete, was attacked in the street as she walked home. She was born in Turin but her parents came originally from Nigeria. Hit in the eye by eggs she required an operation on her cornea.
To add the dog whistle fascism Salvini tweeted on the anniversary of Mussolini’s birthday “Tanti nemici, tanto onore” (So many enemies, so much honour) a not-so-subtle reference to Mussolini’s own expression “Molti nemici, molto onore” (Many enemies, much honour) which still can be seen in the Fascist-era sports complex in Rome. The League is not the first party in government to wink at or even finance fascist organisations like Casa Pound, but Salvini’s campaign is taking the whole business on to newer and nastier ground. One man who fired at a migrant worker as he walked home actually explained that we are now in “Salvini’s Italy”.
Blaming migrants for the inability of the capitalists to make their system work is a dirty deception which does not give a real idea of the conditions in which migrant workers live and work in Italy (see, for example, reuters.com)
In addition to this it not only divides the working class but is also necessary to hide the fact that this “populist” or “government of change” agenda is the same as all the governments in the past – to offer nothing to the working class. This is what the article which follows from our sister organisation in Italy, the Internationalist Communist Party, makes clear.
7 August 2018
The proletariat would return to the ranks of mere plebeians if it lost its class character as the antagonist of capitalism; and its possibilities as an exploited class which struggles for its own defence and liberation would be thwarted and rendered null and void if the motivation and physical forces for a revolutionary leadership were not produced from within it through its own struggles. (Onorato Damen)
Italy: Is “La Lega” Nazi?
In light of the toxic utterances of La Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, this is no idle question.1
Since the so-called “government of change” came in, television screens have been jammed with his presence: at all hours, the haughty and peremptory gaze of La Lega’s leader reassures Italians that the days of thieves, delinquents, parasites of every type, preferably those with "suntans" and coming from the southern border – are now finally numbered. The “good times” are over, warns the minister threateningly; from now on, only those who are able to demonstrate that they possess Italian citizenship (for at least four generations, we could add ...)2 can enjoy the countless advantages that are now enjoyed as illegitimate privileges by the aforementioned "rabble".
What those privileges are Salvini doesn’t tell us, except in clichés that, despite having all the substance of fresh air, have a power that, at times, not even unassailable scientific truths possess. One of the most important is that the refugees – but, in the less "refined" version, immigrants in general – are kept at the state’s (that is “our”) expense in three star hotels, for as much as forty euros per day. It is no use demonstrating, with concrete figures, that the forty euros are really just a few euros (less than the price of a pack of cigarettes) and that the hotels, even where they are used, are for short periods only. It’s equally fruitless to show that the number of people arriving – if they were not slaughtered by the Libyan authorities or human traffickers or were drowned in the Mediterranean – in the last year and a half, are sharply down compared to previous years. It also should be said, that this is thanks to the previous Minister of the Interior of the PD label3 , who was already doing plenty to set the agenda for his successor.
It does not matter that Rom and Sinti, or Gypsies as they are commonly called, do not add up to two hundred thousand individuals, that is to say, 0.3% of the population, roughly half of whom have Italian citizenship. Of those, about twenty-one thousand live in "emergency housing" or in settlements without planning permission, destined to the bulldozer, according to the bellicose language of the former leader (politically speaking) of “Padania”.4 The same applies to crime, which has been steadily declining for two or three years, according to data provided by his own Ministry. In short, the truth has no importance, what matters is to take some small pieces of evidence, then exaggerate them until they become distorted in order to turn them into powerful blunt objects with which to hammer people’s consciousness. In this way they manipulate people to believe in them against their own interests. As they say, the shameless falsification of reality is a weapon of mass distraction, and what a weapon!
Here, from this point of view, there are plenty of similarities with Nazism, and in some respects frighteningly so. If Nazism blamed the Jews, who were 0.8% of the German population5 , as the cause of all evil, in today's Italy it is the 0.3% (gypsies, in fact) or 0.2% (refugees) who are the main problem for Italians – according to Salvini – especially for those belonging to the lower social classes.6 As Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich said – and he was one who knew a lot about the art of talking bollocks – a lie told a thousand times becomes a truth. It is an art that every ruling class must master, and one which the bourgeoisie has raised to the highest level, even if the level of those who exercise it is pretty low, which however, is often a better guarantee of success. That there were also a few Jewish bankers in Germany or that some gypsies steal and often from the most defenseless people like the elderly, is not exactly a great revelation, but from there to keep harping on about a "national emergency", turns a molehill into a mountain.
And yet, this three card trick always succeeds, where confusion, disillusionment, uncertainty about the present and the future rule: this collective state of mind is a result first of the social devastation produced by the crisis, but also, and not least, by the betrayal of those leftist parties which a substantial sector of the proletariat, and those of similar social strata, had always entrusted their hopes for a better world. Actually, in the strictest sense we cannot talk about betrayal since the institutional left has done nothing but take its betrayal of almost a century ago (the Stalinist counter-revolution from which it is descended) to ever-more extreme lengths. What many “people of the Left” cannot explain is the sudden change of identity of their (former) party.
A substantial segment of the proletariat has either lost its class identity7 , or it has become blurred, and this can be seen in the left parties’ abandonment of their political heritage. After so many years of silence, and consigning the "values" in which they had sincerely believed to the dustbin, they are no longer able to control the meanest feelings that arise spontaneously from a society founded on exploitation and oppression. Class solidarity and unity are powerful weapons against the competition between workers and the poor which has always been the “black beast” of the workers' movement. Continuously produced by the harsh material necessities of a life subject to the laws of profit – it has turned into nationalist solidarity at its worst. “Italians First”, “Us First”, give the illusion of being able to halt, if not reverse, the worsening living and working conditions that the laws of capital, of which the crisis is the recurring expression, make inevitable.
Marx wrote that the most advanced country points the way for all others: this idea, although derided, or considered outdated even by self-styled Marxists, is instead confirmed by reality. It is well known that in the United States the regions affected by de-industrialisation, where former workers have been thrown into unemployment and poverty, and very often led to the creation of “bad jobs”, i.e. precarious and underpaid labour. It’s here that the Republican right reaped its greatest successes. In the north-east of France, the closure of mines, steel mills, large industry in general, had devastating effects on the class composition in that area, so that this formerly “Red” region (voting for the PCF) has now become a stronghold of the Front National, which combines, in the usual poisonous mix, racism, nationalism and social demands that were always part of the political baggage of the reformist left, within the framework of a firmly neoliberal vision. However, we should also point out that not all the disappointed and disoriented working class vote for the extreme right or "naturally" glowers at immigrants. Without doubt it is a real phenomenon, but it is matched by another, of which the mass media speak little, and then only in passing and unwillingly, that is, that abstention increases with every election. Of course, this abstention is for the most part only a passive expression of disgust towards bourgeois politicians. However this does not mean that, sooner or later, this silent rejection cannot be transformed into a determination to struggle, or a predisposition to the fight on a class terrain outside of, and against the institutions of bourgeois society, including trade unions.8
The fact remains that, today, populism in all its varieties has the wind at its back. It promises what the "people" want to hear. Yet talk costs nothing; things only change when we pass from words to deeds. It is no coincidence that Salvini's frenetic campaign to be seen everywhere, which has obscured the image of his soulmate Di Maio, has until now (the beginning of July) above all, if not exclusively, taken the form of those measures with a shamelessly vile flavour to which the mass media give so much emphasis, but they come at no cost or almost no cost. The measures in question are the refusal to accept ships that save migrants at sea, the creation of obstacles for humanitarian organisations that deal with rescuing shipwrecked people and people abandoned to their fate by human traffickers, with the likely “side effects” that adults and children will drown. Add to that his announcements about the liberalisation of the use of weapons ("Are you John Wayne?" he was asked), on greater surveillance of every educational institution by the forces of law and order and other sh .., pardon, extravaganzas of the kind. Yes, all right, but where are the laws which millions of Italians – that is, workers – are waiting for with impatient hope; new laws which would lighten the economic and social burden which they have had imposed on them by all the previous governments, which also included the League? Well, here the matter is more complicated and the enemy is not only in Brussels or in Frankfurt, but inside the government itself. Obviously Draghi and the European commissioners will continue to insist that social security systems cannot be tampered with, recommending instead increased cuts9 , especially in an economic context that continues to remain, to say the least, uncertain.
Less obvious – but only for those deluded about the nature of the new government – is the reluctance of the economy minister, Tria, to finance the epochal reforms by which the Salvini-Di Maio pairing have captured millions of voters: dismantling the Fornero Law, a citizen’s income and a flat tax. In the election campaign Salvini spoke of ending the pension cuts, but today he is only offering a cosmetic change that might mitigate the harshness of the criteria for retirement eligibility, but this is just watering them down and no more. If you stick to their vague policy announcements, you can’t expect much. The forty-one years of contributions actually paid or the "quota 100" (the sum of the age register plus the years of contribution), but starting from sixty-four years of age, pour a lot of water into the wine of the expectations of those chained to an interminable life of work.
Furthermore, will this already reduced pension allowance be penalised further? By the way, why is the amount, significantly lowered by the cuts of previous governments, not now raised? This would be a way to restore, at least in part, the theft of our deferred wages? The last Berlusconi government, needless to say, did not even think of going in this direction, indeed, in yet another intervention on pensions it laid the foundation for the work of Fornero, which then abruptly speeded up the attack. Of course, Salvini is careful not to mention that his party shares responsibility for the progressive dismantling of the pension system, a piece of legislation which directly bears the signature of the former Northern League minister Maroni (2002).
What about the precarious workforce? The so-called Biagi reform of 2003, another masterpiece of the centre-right (after the centre-left Treu reform, 1997) doesn’t it too have the League’s signature on it? It is known that precariousness, in addition to causing anxiety, stress, distress (and lower protection) means a lower wage than “normal” work, due to casual employment, and makes the perspective (as well as amount) of a future pension, so far in the future as to be grotesque. If we added up two balance sheets comparing the damage suffered by the working class thanks to the League (in good company, of course) and say, the thefts of the gypsies, there is no contest.10 This damage will be even greater if the flat tax (Salvini's other hobby horse) is implemented. This would mean a drastic reduction in taxes, which would bring the maximum rate, for top earners, to 20% and for the “common people” to 15%. Without going into all the ins and outs of the proposal11 , it is certain that it would be a giant gift to the rich and very rich, who, as the history of the last few decades has abundantly demonstrated, wouldn’t use that mountain of money to make investments in new jobs, but will hoard it and invest it in financial speculation. The hole that would be created in state coffers would be, on the most optimistic assumptions, forty billion euros a year (but probably much more), so that even the most generous tax amnesty (scrapping previous tax records) would not be able to replace it. Perhaps, double-digit GDP growth might just about fill that void, but no one in their right mind would believe that piece of science fiction. The resulting cut in services would not be offset by the few (and hypothetical) hundreds of euros that the lower social classes would get in their pockets, not to mention the upheaval in public accounts, which would encourage speculation with all its consequence. Was the devastating Fornero reform not a sacrificial lamb offered up to financial speculation to stop it running out of control during the last Berlusconi-Lega government? The fact is that capitalism has very precise laws that cannot be circumvented, if one accepts it and aims to administer the system. When it is in crisis, like today, those laws become even more stringent, more “wicked”: all the rest is just a scam.
The same argument, of course, applies to the Five Star movement’s citizenship income idea, but we will return to that another time. It also applies to the so-called antagonist (antifascist – translators note) avalanche that, in its small way, has encouraged and accepted the provocations of Salvini, going into a completely sterile battle with the police who protected him when he made his propaganda tours in the cities and especially in working class areas. In spite of themselves, they acted as a sounding board for Salvini’s work of ideological poisoning of the "popular" (or "plebeian") sectors of society. For the most part they opposed him morally instead of tackling his promises to lower the retirement age and put more money in people’s pockets. In short, a disaster, moreover one that was widely predictable, because so are the "antagonists".
On July 1, Salvini blessed the “oceanic crowds” gathered at Pontida (Bergamo) with a prophecy that the League will govern for thirty years. It may be so, but just to get back to our original question, it occurs to us that another character12 made extraordinary promises, such as that of founding a Reich which would “last for a thousand years”. As everyone knows it lasted much less and perhaps even Salvini’s new "Reich" will run out of breath before the hypothetical thirty years are up. One thing is for sure, if regimes and governments fall as a result of inter-bourgeois faction fights, nothing will change for the working class, at best only the length of their chains.
July 12 2018
For more on this see our earlier translation “The 'Government of Change' is still anti-Working Class” at leftcom.org
- 1La Lega or The League was formerly the Northern League and confined its racism to southern Italians (“terroni” or dirt-eaters as they are disparagingly referred to). Given that this meant that La Lega could not win votes in the South Salvini has dropped the Northern and re-oriented its message to a more general racist and anti-immigrant one. He has also promoted an organization in the South called Noi Con Salvini (Us with Salvini which was not so successful in the 2018 election).
- 2An ironic reference to Nazi demands for racial purity in its ranks.
- 3The previous Home Secretary (Minister of the Interior) was Marco Minniti of the Democratic Party (PD) of the “centre-left” under Prime Minister Gentiloni. He did a deal with the Libyans to prevent the departure of boats of migrants from Libya which greatly reduced migration but resulted in many migrants being treated as slaves by traffickers in North Africa. Salvini, though will never acknowledge such a fact which would get in the way of his political narrative.
- 4The Northern League used to refer to the richer provinces of Northern Italy as “Padania” (derived from “Padus”, the Latin for the River Po which flows from Piedmont to the Adriatic).
- 5i.e. those registered by the state as such, because many of them had no religious affiliation.
- 6Let us not forget the fact that in recent years the number of immigrants has decreased, due to the crisis, which slows down incoming flows and impels migrant workers to return to their country of origin or to emigrate to other nations. This phenomenon, however, alarms the thinking bourgeoisie, because, in perspective, it increases the costs of social security (future pensions), since they are less taxpayers who hardly – or not always – will receive a pension cheque tomorrow and raise the ratio between retired and active workers.
- 7The first element necessary, though not sufficient, to conceive and incorporate an idea of an alternative to bourgeois society.
- 8That this "sprouting" plays dialectically a primary role in the establishment of the revolutionary vanguard is for us obvious, but in this regard we refer readers to our many articles on the subject.
- 9In other words: according to Draghi and Co. we should continue to cut pensions, and spending on health and schools.
- 10If you want, you could also count how much it has cost to freeze the wages of public employees, which started in 2009, with the last government which included La Lega.
- 11According to some, the poorest could even pay more.
- 12Hitler’s “thousand year Reich” actually lasted 136 months. The subject in question was certainly different, but, from the ideological point of view, there are some disturbing similarities…