The war for government seats; the cultural and moral paucity of the “new” ruling class; the settling of scores in the right-wing coalition; the petty interests of each in their brutal materiality – we are witnessing live the spectacle of the degeneration of politics.
It would be wrong, however, to dwell on the colorful news and not consider the underlying causes that led the nationalist right to seize the levers of power. Beyond the skirmishes over how to divide the offices, there is no doubt that we are in the presence of a profound cultural and political shift in Italian society, of a “conservative revolution,” which does not mean a return to the past, but an attempt to give a new structure to the system of government, definitively breaking those institutional, economic and social balances built during the long “social-democratic compromise.”
The Right intends to revive neoliberal policy, implemented, however, by a state that claims to recover and cultivate the “identity” of the Italian people, which, from what we understand, implies the denial of diversity and of new civil rights that could pollute “Italian-ness,” on the one hand, and the restoration of localist mythologies and differences on the other. In short, a mixture of nostalgia and newness, of authoritarian decisionism and populism, of racism and the cult of the traditional family (no migrants, no ius scholae, no abortion, no LGBTQI+ and so on). A vision based on a kind of protectionist liberalism, contained within a Euroskeptic Atlanticism, sovereignist and Trump-aligned.
Those that have buoyed up the right wing are a social bloc made up of broad layers of the petty bourgeoisie, the productive middle class and the self-employed, the working class, the marginalized classes, and even the new generation. It is their worries, their fear of the crisis, their sense of disappointment and frustration and their lack of prospects for life and work that act as the glue for a large popular base that no longer sees the left as a point of reference.
The political novelty is that this social bloc’s desire for change mostly spilled over into support for Fratelli d’Italia, which seemed to be the most cohesive, reliable and least compromised political force. The most striking aspect of the election results – along with abstentionism, which, with 17 million nonvoters, saw an increase of 4.4 million over 2018 – is the feat managed by Giorgia Meloni’s party, which jumped from 4% to 26%, with 6 million more votes over 2018. The PD, which in its firsts election in 2008 – a year after its founding – had garnered more than 12 million votes, now has only 5.4 million, 56% fewer. Setting aside the awful electoral law, we can see in these numbers the explanation for everything.
In his Prison Notebooks, Antonio Gramsci noted that fascism, in its rise to power, took advantage of the “subversivism” and widespread “primitive and elementary anti-statism” present among the Italian people. According to Gramsci, fascism was able to give voice and expression to the poor public ethos of the ruling classes and the exaggerated and politically backward conflict rooted in Italian society. These thoughts are highly relevant nowadays, offering us a wealth of insight in order to understand the social and political dynamics and processes that flowed together into the victory of the far right.
Fratelli d’Italia catalyzed a sense of revulsion toward parties and the clientelistic and nepotistic use of power, which rewarded the party that had been in opposition the longest. It galvanized anger against the lack of attention to citizens’ daily problems, unjustified dysfunctionalities and intolerable inefficiencies. It channeled the need for change into a proposal for a presidentialist reform of the institutional system. Giorgia Meloni was able to give voice to a state of mind in which frustrations, rebelliousness, criticism of large capitalist corporations and hostility toward the Democratic Party, identified as the sole and natural scapegoat, were all mixed together.
The PD’s constant identification with power, every time and in every combination, even in its technocratic form, hurt its image and credibility. A large part of the population, frightened by the idea of slipping down the social ladder, has chosen to blindly rely on the charismatic leader (of the day), identified and constructed as such by the hype-building apparatus of the media system.
At this point, it would be a mistake for those on the left to think about restarting with yet another search for, and fight over, some unlikely supposed “great leader.” The return to politics means collective reflection and real renewal, the mobilization of the skills that can be found in abundance in civil society and the creation of a project for change – while always having the general interest and the common good as the north star, and quickly building up an intelligent and uncompromising opposition in institutions and in the country.
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