Following events in France, Italian liberal and left opinion confidently awaited the results of last weekend's regional elections, secure in the belief that the expected fall in the overall turnout would augur, at the least, a setback for the Berlusconi govenment, mired in corruption and scandals as never before.
News of his political death was greatly exaggerated, alas! Of the 13 regions contested, Berlusconi added four to the two already in his power, thus consigning the administrative rule of the country to an almost equally divided centre-left/center-right split.
But the nude facts say little of the two scales of defeat of the centre-left, rendered doubly bitter by the correctly-anticipated (and record) fall in the vote - 1 in 3 Italians didn't vote - and the 7 to 8 per cent decline in the vote for Berlusconi's PDL. For the most significant part of the government victory was due to the ever-spiralling fortunes - it took 12 to 13 per cent of the vote nationally while standing candidate only in the north centre - of the racist Northern League. In taking power in the Veneto and Piemonte regions of the north, it now effectively is in the saddle in the whole of the economic heartland of Italy, where industrial and financial capital predominate. That the two regions of the south - Calabria and Lazio - were conquered by candidates close to Gianfranco Fini, president of the Chamber of Deputees and declared opponent of Berlusconi's increasingly faltering scandal-prone leadership, thereby sharpening tensions and conflicts within, brought no comfort to the scattered and impotent forces of the Italian opposition parties and movements.
The opposition's major parliamentary voice, the Democratic Party, ex-Stalinist long transmuted in form and content into the Italian bourgeoisie's dutiful client, as two disastrous periods in government under ex-Christian Democrat Roman Prodi demonstrated took 26 per cent of the vote, more or less similar to what the Prime Minister managed. But where the latter was enhanced handsomely by the League's protean achievements the profound divisions within and between the forces of opposition ensured once more another debacle of the Italian left.
This was a debacle rendered more so by the fact that it has occurred against a background of a severe and steadily worsenening of the eeconomic and social crisis: mass unemployment, savage cuts and massive attacks on the standadrs of living of millions of workers and their families, the old, the young, students and migrants. And all of this carefully and cynically calibrated, through a near wall-to-wall TV and press campaign of racist invective and hate against the immigrant population in particular, and anyone who in anyway refuses to conform to the mixture of trifling levity, vain posturing, and invincible cretinism embodied in Berlusconi. Who at the same time, driven to evermore desperate anti-democratic measures to save him from prison, has effectively transformed the country into an open political sewer, confirmed recently by the Court of Magistrates, announcing that the cases of corruption have risen 200 per cent in the last two years. A fact dramatically illustrated graphically several weeks ago, when one of his parliamentary members, exposed as having been elected with the help of the Calabrian Mafia, stealing the voting cards of Calabrian voters in Belgium, and simultaneously discovered with his fingers in the pie of a 2-billion euro recycling scandal orchestrated by the Roman underworld, was forced to resign in disgrace and received a standing ovation from his parliamentary cronies as he was escorted in tears to prison!
But so complete, ruthless and totalitarian has been the occupation and control of the TV and media of the state - Berlusconi's Mediaset is another universe of discourse entirely !- by his hand-picked "head fixers" that all programmes of political analysis, debate and criticism were banned for a month before the elections with the almost complete silence of the Democratic Party and the abjectly docile journalist trade union.
Not surprisingly, a population notoriously TV-dependent for its view of the world remains indifferently ignorant of the true state of affairs and their causes.
It has been almost exclusively through the actions of a relatively tiny group of independent journalists, plus a section of the liberal press, along with the ex-Tangentopoli magistrate Antonio Di Pietro, that a sustained and ferocious counterattack of exposure and criticism of Berlusconi and his government has been mounted. But also against the conniving silence and passivity of the Democratic Party and the Tweedledum-and-Tweedledee of the self-styled "communists" of the radical left, who once more have oppotunistically hitched their political fortunes to the prospect of another centre-left government. Dutifully curtailing their penchant for the Piazza in order not to upset their current partners in many of the administrations and councils across the country.
Predictably, therefore, the momentum of growing anger, protest and mobilisations found coherent expression and co-ordination through the Internet and the Web, culminating in the emergence of quintessentially populist democratically-inspired movements. The Popolo Viola (the "purple people") and the Movimento Cinque Stelle ("five-star movement") of the comic Beppe Grillo, whose more radical polemical "systemic" critique of capitalism - though, typically, it abjures political labels and analysis of any kind - received a surprisingly high vote in the regions contested (as too did Di Pietro's parliamentary party Italy of the Values, despite a more pronounced free market ideology).
Politically and programmatically the success of these movements is doomed to be short-lived. Already the reactionary offensive announced by the triumphant Berlusconi with the prospect of three years free of any electoral challenge ahead of him,(if he can stay out of clink!) poses concretely and more sharply than ever questions of theory, strategy and forms of organisation of struggle that must be at the heart of building any sustained challenge not only to stop the onward march of B squalid regime, but at the same time to the very foundations of the system itself, whose nature is at the root of all our problems. The self-consciously airy anti-political stamp of the current contemporary forms of resistance renders them inevitably incapable of embarking on such a task, leaving them prey to the dominant bourgeois formations, the more their internal incoherence becomes more and more transparent as events unfold.
The centrality of the Italian workers' movement, betrayed by its political and trade union leaders, misled into one cul-de-sac after another by sundry left talking Pied Pipers, and now largely overlooked or ignored by the "movements", cannot but be the principal focus of such an exercise.
In spite of everything across Italy hundreds of workers struggle, often in the tiniest workplaces that are so characteristic of the country, occupations, sit-ins protests and battles of all kind continue unbowed in spite of being ignored and written off by their leaders. It is that spirit of resistance and self-sacrifice which alone can forge a real mass movement able to fuse the anger, the energy and the animating sense of social justice is everywhere apparent among hundreds of thousands , even millions in this country with the only banner and cause of social and human liberation that alone can ultimately guarantee victory.