In Italy's 31 May regional elections, the results signalled a crisis, or dramatic curtailment of what so far has seemed the irresistible rise of Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party.
From its extraordinary success in last year's European election, when it took 41% of the vote, the Democratic Party plummeted to 23%, in the seven regions contested, while still securing victory in five other regions. The result underlines once more the increasingly unstable and volatile profile of the political situation here.
There was also a further significant increase in the number of abstentions — 1 in 2 didn't vote! The 18% achieved by Grillo's 5 Star Movement, in spite of losing around two million votes, represents its highest ever vote in regional elections, and gained it the position of the country's second party after the Democratic Party. But in the general mayhem of massive haemorrhage of electoral support there was one ominous exception and overall victor, the violently racist, anti-Europe Lega Nord of Matteo Salvini.
Quadrupling its vote across the whole of the North, including the prize of the historic stronghold of "socialist" Liguria, and increasing its support in Italy's "red " belt of the Marche, Umbria and Toscana, Salvini's outfit, in an electoral alliance with Berlusconi's weakening Forza Italia, while-arm-in-arm on the streets with the fascist Casa Pound, has now assumed the leadership of Italy's fragmented centre right, which though deeply fragmented and divided tactically and organisationally since Berlusconis cynical "pact" with the rising star of Renzi, now constitutes a clear arithmetical majority in the country.
Renzi, predictably has attempted to dismiss the results as of mere local significance, irrelevant nationally. He is fooling no one!
In Liguria and the Veneto, where the party lost most heavily, the little man invested all of his time and energies in trying to prove that his march was unstoppable, not just against the right but those within his own movement, especially those of the old former Stalinist nomenclature so clinically decapitated by him.
Where he did secure victories, especially in Puglia and Campania, it was largely due to the candidature of veteran local satraps, long antedating Renzi's arrival in the Democratic Party, whose well-oiled networks of corrupt clientist graft were patently autonomous of “Renzismo", even if of necessity sustained by him.
The evidence of these elections indicates strongly that the populist construction of Renzi has severely stalled. His would-be Bonapartist attempts to supplant institutionally and politically the traditional "interlocutors" between the government, state and the working masses (the trade union bureaucrats, Confindustria etc), in order to "speak directly to and with the people" has had little purchase on the reality and the consequences of that reality imposed by him on the lives of workers in the short period of his time in power.
The rhetorical sops have counted for little as he arrogantly and cynically rammed through a largely opposition-free parliament and a pathetically impotent so-called "left", a whole series of draconian reforms, aimed at copper fastening executive power in the hands of a future prime minister. Meanwhile his Jobs Act, and reform of the education system ruthlessly ensures free reign to the power of employers to rule their domains as they see fit and to modernise the historically decadent and corruptly inefficient Italian social formation.
The massive electoral abstentions speak eloquently of how far he still is from politically reconfiguring the various social blocs which make up Italy's labouring masses. The gains of the right show an equal failure, at remoulding the possessing classes around the democrats as the “Party of the Nation".
The project of Renzi stands or falls on gaining and maintaing popular support across the terrain of a deeply rooted and highly complex social and political structure, itself the historic outcome of the circumstances that saw the end of fascism and the birth and development of the “First Republic”. The real tragedy unfolding ineluctably, alas, is that so far it is the forces of the deepest reaction that are on the rise with their more poisonous alternative to Renzi.
If they succeed Italy may once again set the reactionary agenda for Europe and the world.