“If we want things to stay as they are things will have to change,” says one of the protagonists in Giuseppe Lampedusa’s novel about resistance to the Sicilian aristocracy against the forces of the bourgeois Risorgimento. It is a cynical remark highly appropriate to events in Italy right now where with the defection of around 40 of his ruling party has left Silvio Berlusconi technically bereft of a majority and facing a vote of no-confidence on 14 December.
Unfortunately Berlusconi can take considerable reassurance from the fact that his government has so far gladdened the hearts of both his native bourgeoisie and the money-market people. He has overseen a successful onslaught on the jobs, wages and living conditions of millions of workers and their families — and without one serious blow being laid on him by either the official opposition parties in parliament or the trade union movement.
The political crisis stems from hostility between Berlusconi and the ex-number two in his party, the president of the Chamber, Gianfranco Fini. Fini is unhappy about the ever increasing electoral, political and ideological reliance by Berlusconi on Umberto Bossi’s Northern League.
The government now finds himself compelled to establish a Federal Italy — the Northern League’s defining point! This threatens the unravelling and break-up of the peninsula; but the centres of industry, banks and finance lie within the regions of the mythical “Padania” and the political grasp of Umberto Bossi.
Fini used to be a long-time dedicated fascist — “Mussolini was one of history’s greatest statesmen!” He has reinvented himself as a man of the democratic centre and has used his position of Speaker to exploit the endless sexual scandals and gaffes of the premier — Berlusconi’s desperate attempts to conjure up one anti-constitutional ruse after another to stay out of prison, unstoppable revelations about criminal involvement with the mafia and corruption.
Ultimately Fini’s decision to break with the ruling party testifies to his belief that among the most powerful centres of business, industry and finance, disquiet exists about the capacity, direction and potential consequences of the Berlusconi project.
Fini’s new party, Future and Liberty, can be seen as a rallying call to the Italian bourgeoisie to prepare to rearm itself and regroup.
But Fini has no intention of acting too hastily, despite his threat a few weeks ago to vote against the goverment in a vote of no confidence if Berlusconi didn’t resign. He is only too aware that in the electoral and parliamentary bear-pit in Italy, one step too far or too hasty could mean the end of a political career.
After a meeting with the President of the state — the ex-Stalinist Giorgio Napolitano — he agreed to suspend his motion until after Berlusconi’s next slash-and-burn budget went successfully through parliament.
Fini also backed the draconian Education Bill now on its way. This while thousands of students, teachers and parents besiege parliament and occupy the historic and cultural monuments of the country.
Whatever political formation emerges from the cynical manoeuvring and horse trading in the days ahead — a government of ”national salvation” uniting all the parties, with the blessing of the “communists” of the extra-parliamentary left, has been mooted — the perspective for the Italian workers are grim.
It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Berlusconi may lose any votes of confidence to come. Already the auction of votes is in full swing, a process that might well take on a special significance if the present protests against the Education Bill are sucessful.
Even the possibility of an eventual election victory for Berlusconi cannot be ruled out, so divided and demoralised are the Italian masses, (mis)represented as they are by a galaxy of centre-left and radical left windbags. Those windbags bear full responsibility for the political cul-de sac in Italy today.