The results of Sunday’s local elections are the full manifestation—if such is possible—of the upheaval that was already evident from the results of the European elections. There was a resurgence of the Democratic Party, but it was only partial. The star of the M5S fell even further, and the most striking takeaway was the strong (and dangerous) surge of the Lega, which is breaking through in social, political and cultural areas that—for some unclear reason—we had taken for granted, believing that they would “forever” remain the repository of the memory of the tragic events that once took place in Italian history.
The fact that the Lega, which started off as secessionist and came to power within the Berlusconi system, tinged with petty localism and corruption, and which later re-emerged as a nationalist, identitarian sovereignist-racist party, has broken through in Emilia, was the number one party in historically anti-fascist Forlì, and has even taken over the city of Ferrara, is a complete overturning of our cultural-political imaginary, and not only that of the left.
We are left to ask ourselves some questions that must shock our sensibilities: what of Olmo, the protagonist of Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, now that the giant red flag that he had kept hidden during the dark age of fascism has again become small, invisible and torn to shreds? And what of Giorgio Bassani’s The Novel of Ferrara, what of the pain of his character Micol in that immortal story of loves and lives torn apart by fascism—most of all in the story of the tragedy of the Jews of Ferrara, who were deported to Nazi concentration camps—even those who had joined the fascists—with the guilty complicity of all.
The setting for Bassano’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis has now become a “Garden of the Finzi-Salvini.” Of course, some will point out—and rightly so—that Salvini’s Lega is not the same as the fascism of the black shirt gangs.
However, Sunday’s defeat of the left in Emilia and Ferrara brings us to reflect on another element in the history of the region. At the beginning of the 1920s, Ferrara was not only the setting for civil war and Italo Balbo’s organized violence against both workers, Labor Chambers and fascist organizations, but was also the first real Italian territory that was taken over by the black shirts, one which—before it later crossed over to the other side—was described by Gramsci and Togliatti as the first “mass base of fascism.”
The fascists put forward a concrete proposal of land redistribution—borrowed from socialism and ultimately a false promise, implemented to the full benefit of the landowners—a “land reform” which was supposed to be for the benefit of army veterans (which were not at all pro-war, but were snubbed by the left at the time) as reparation for the futile slaughter of the First World War. There was also the armed violence—committed by fascist gangs escorted by local police—against the worker’s struggles, which were being waged to renegotiate the land contracts, with a view to an ultimate collectivization of the land.
In the end, the workers in the countryside ended up divided between the two sides, just like it happened with the factory workers later on, after the organization of pro-fascist corporatist unions.
The “actual substance” of the far-right programs was absolutely in favor of the landowners and employers, but they managed to divide the workers nonetheless.
As a result, the class-based socialist left began to become demoralized and abandon the struggle, while the communists were too few.
Now, the PD’s Nicola Zingaretti seems to be rejoicing about the results of Sunday’s vote, proclaiming that it was not at all a defeat, but rather a return to a “competitive two-pole system,” namely consisting of the right and the Democratic Party—which has not yet emerged from the modernist wilderness into which Matteo Renzi led it, merely wrapping itself in a mantle of nice-sounding promises.
In reality, one can hardly see any sign of “two poles” in these results: the right is clearly winning by a large margin, positioning itself against the rigidity and austerity of the European Commission—Matteo Salvini’s most helpful ally in his relentless advance—and now speaking of “social protection for people,” which should take precedent over the rules of the market, competition and growth, which the Democratic Party are still trying to pass off as a cure-all. Of course, the Lega only makes such promises in connection with its shameful premise of “Italians First,” keeping up the ideological fiction, of which it is well aware, that nowadays the solutions to every local problem are either supranational or do not exist at all.
And what is the left doing? Will it keep looking on impotently as the right breaks through in its territories? Given the complete lack of response from the left on the issue of “social protection,” Ferrara became yet another setting to enact the tragedy of our death-like stillness.
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