In the past few weeks, as if from nowhere, a new movement, calling itself “the sardines”, has filled the squares of Italy, originating from Emilia Romagna’s capital city, Bologna.
25,000 came out in Milan on Sunday 1 December, and there will be a mass national demo of all groups and organisational conference in Rome on 15 December.
Drawing in thousands of the young, and often very young, the dynamic of the mobilisation is focused against the reactionary racist extremism of Matteo Salvini and his party, La Lega nationale.
According to some of the comments of the liberal bourgeois media, this is the breath of radical wind which will lift the suffocating passivity of the Italian masses.
In fact such stirrings are anything but unusual in the last two decades. “I Girotondi” in 2002, “il popolo Viola” in 2006, and others, have constituted a series of self-organised eruptions, each with its own specificity but also sharing a common and radical thread of identity.
Last spring saw something quite similar to the sardines — the huge demonstration in Milan for the rights of migrants, followed by the similarly massive turnouts in Verona against the pro-family fundamentalist international conference organised by La Lega.
Those and others were important mobilisations at a moment when Salvini’s reactionary authoritarianism was threatening to establish itself as the”natural order of things” in the common sense of the masses.
Such phenomena represent resistance. On the other hand their repeated ephemerality underscores further the erosion, decline, and absence of the profile of working-class and trade-union-led resistance across the peninsula during the decades-long Italian economic and political crisis.
The current protests, like their predecessors, characterise themselves insistently as mass people’s fronts. Many see their sheer heterogenity and fluidity as proof against all ideologies and all concepts like “class” that pose structural and political challenges to the order of things.
But there are significant novelties in this current wave. The squares are filling with protests against Salvini at the moment when he is in opposition and out of government.
Although led by the same prime minister, Conte, the present coalition is composed of M5S (the Five Star movement), the centre-left Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi’s new group Italia Viva, and LEU, a part of the radical left.
It has branded itself a government of “hope”, promising to break with its predecessor and the record of Salvini. Some hope!
Immediately revealing itself divided and fragile as it set to match the expectations of its most enthusiastic supporters in Brussels, who were delighted to have seen the end of the upstart “sovereignist” Salvini, the coalition set the tone with a neoliberal budget.
It left untouched the whole arsenal of the previous coalition, including the notoriously racist security act against which millions protested last spring.
And it confirmed Italy’s criminal policy in Libya, criminal in the literal sense as it sustains and outfits the gangster militias indifferent to the horrors exercised by them and their government inside and outside their detention camps.
Against this government, so far, the “sardines”, so far, have not said a word.
What remains of the Italian left so far stutters to activate itself or even to take a position.
Some just support the “sardines” movement (Articolo Uno, Sinistra Italiana). Other have welcomed its birth and what they claim its role as bulwark against the Right (a large part of the leadership of the CGIL union confederation, and Rifondazione Comunista).
One of Rifondazione’s leaders, in the pages of Il Manifesto, has provided us with an example of the quality of political mind at work, calling for “the nationalisation of the crisis-ridden Taranto Steel works, a massive plan of reclamation and decontamination… then restore it to the market at a fair price”.
Nationalise the losses and privatise the profits? And that is the Italian left? The country’s working masses are still left defenceless before the juggernaut of Salvini and the neo-fascist resurgence in Italy.