The ascent of Matteo Salvini’s Lega in Italy has no equal in Europe in its astonishing progress — from 17% in Italy’s March 2018 election to 34% in the May 2019 Euro-election. In May 2019, the Lega got three million more votes than in March 2018, though seven million fewer votes were cast overall.
It advanced further on its already historic mass base in the North. It advanced significantly in the hitherto “red” centre. It quadrupled its presence in the South and the Islands. Its social bloc has now extended vastly beyond its historic hegemony among the small and medium producers of the commercial-industrial zones in the Veneto and Lombardia provinces. New sectors of the industrial working class, and vast sections of the impoverished poor of the South, have turned to the snake-oil peddler Salvini, snared by the poison of racist filth and anti-migrant repression.
In Riace (southern Italy) and Lampedusa (an Italian island south of Sicily), mayors who for years had defied Salvini and his predecessors, fighting to welcome and integrate the refugees arriving on their doorstep, were thrown out in elections on 26 May. The Lega continues to siphon off support from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, now in freefall, to capitalise on the relative decline of the Five Star movement, and even to drain support from the electoral base of the fascists of Casa Pound and Forza Nuova. The only force, so far, holding its own against Salvini’s advance is I Fratelli d’ Italia (Brothers of Italy), rival reactionary scum to Salvini.
In Italy, as elsewhere in Europe but more so, the profound weakness and retreat on every front of the working-class movement, and the absence of anti-capitalist challenge, has let the mounting anger, discontent and demand for change of the masses be hijacked by the variegated ranks of populist reaction.
On 26 May, the liberal-bourgeois PD (Democratic Party), itself part-author of the two-decade long rout of the trade union and working class movement that paved the way for Salvini, reemerged as the only opposition. The radical left was reduced to larvae.
The support for Salvini and his party is no longer only a protest against the “elites” of the nation and Europe. It has become also, and more so, a vote for “Order” and against the “Invasion” (migrants) and social and political “delinquents”.
Salvini, minister of the interior, is pointedly outfitted in police uniform everywhere he appears in public. He has promised or threatened to restore the “grembuilini” (the schoolchildren’s smock of the prewar era: as yet, school uniforms are unusual in Italy). He offers prayers to the Madonna, the glorification of the Christmas crib, and mawkish veneration of the “traditional family”. This is not fascism — yet! Neither is it just the return of the centre-right. Rather, Italy is moving towards a mass-based authoritarian regime crowned by an aspirant would-be Bonapartist chief.