Italy: generalized crisis of Italian capitalism behind Draghi’s resignation

Interview with Marco Veruggio,
Contro Corrente, Marxist collective 

Q: Comrade Marco, Italy is faced with another political crisis. What are the immediate reasons for Draghi’s resignation?

A: On Wednesday, July 21, a confidence vote took place in the Senate (the High Chamber of the Italian Parliament) and three of the parties of the grand coalition led by Draghi –Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the Northern League and the 5 Stars Movement– voted against him. 

But the issue is more general – Draghi’s government was riddled with internal contradictions. General elections would have taken place in any case in the Spring 2023. The closer the vote, the more embarrassing would it look for those parties to campaign against each other while they are sharing responsibilities in the same government. 

Q: Which conditions led to the grand coalition under Draghi, a banker, and what are the political differences which led to his resignation today?

A: At the beginning of 2021, the Italian government was led by the leader of the 5 Stars Movement, Giuseppe Conte, and supported by a center-left coalition formed by the 5 Stars Movement, the Democratic Party and LeU, a split from the Democratic Party with a Social-democratic background. 

The 5 Stars Movement was the biggest party in the Parliament. It represents the interests of small business, free professions and layers of common people attracted by their rhetoric against big business. The European and Italian ruling classes didn’t trust Conte and preferred a more reliable government to manage the treasure of nearly 200 billion euros that the European Commission was committed to pay to Italy (in the context of the Covid pandemic and other European schemes). Draghi, an ex-Goldman Sachs banker and head of the European Central Bank, was a perfect solution. 

A parliamentary maneuver led by the former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, overthrew Conte and put Draghi in place. The “grand coalition” led by the former head of the ECB was formed by Forza Italia and Northern League (calling themselves “center-right coalition”), by Renzi’s Italia Viva (center) and by the Democratic Party and LeU (center-left coalition). Fratelli d’ Italia (“Brothers of Italy”, a populist right wing party, which is also part of the Center-Right Coalition) joined the opposition ranks – although part of the leadership would have preferred a critical support to Draghi – together with Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left) and some smaller groups. 

At the beginning, Draghi and his “Government of the best” were celebrated as the saviors of the Nation, but month after month the contradictions between big capital and petty bourgeoisie parties inside the coalition got more explosive. 

The war in Ukraine has been a turning point, as economic sanctions and inflation hit particularly small entrepreneurs and the majority of the Italian people do not agree with Draghi’s policies on the issue. In the field of foreign policy, he is the most loyal ally of the US, while in the economic field he tried to cancel some measures and subsidies implemented by the former government in favour of the unemployed and construction companies renovating old housing and to liberalize taxi service and beach facilities, thus attacking again small enterprises, part of the social base of the Northern League and Fratelli d’ Italia. 

The fall of Draghi reflects those major contradictions. The parliamentary dialectic represents just the surface of the problem. A week ago, even an ex high ranking official observed that the “Government of the Best” is not necessarily the best of the governments.

Q: Why was he not willing to make a compromise, i.e., some concessions to the 5SM in order to remain in power?

A: It’ not easy to reply to your answer. I’m not sure whether this choice reflects a political calculation or simply a mistake or an act of arrogance. I mean whether he tried to force the hand as he thought he would make it or he put intentionally an end to his own government. Would he like to play a political role after the elections? Would he like to disengage and to become, for instance, the next secretary general of NATO? We will understand why he said “no” to a compromise in the next months.

Q: What does this development mean for the ruling class of Italy and for the EU establishment?

A: The Italian ruling class is fragmented and the European one as well. So, I think that for some layers of the European and Italian ruling classes the threat of a center-right government formed by populist formations such as the Northern League and Fratelli d’ Italia will be a major problem. But for other layers of the ruling class, the formation of such a government would make it easier to influence its policies in order to defend their own interests and to get more room for maneuver and more independence from the US in the field of foreign policy.

Q: What are social conditions behind this political crisis, what is the feeling of mass of the population?

A: The dominant feelings are fear and disappointment. 

Five years ago, when the 5SM became the biggest party in the Parliament there were great expectations towards them. They spoke on behalf of the citizens and promised to implement “direct democracy” and policies against big business and corruption. “We will open the Parliament like a can of tuna” was their slogan. Nevertheless, they first formed a coalition with the Northern League, then with the Democratic Party and finally supported an ex-Goldman Sachs banker. 

Layers of working people and youth, who in 2018 thought a government led by the 5SM would have helped them, are tremendously disappointed today. I suppose that, mutatis mutandis, it’s a similar reaction to SYRIZA’s bankruptcy in Greece. 

Q: What role does the war in Ukraine play in the present crisis?

A: As I told you, the majority of Italians do not agree with the policies implemented by Draghi to cope with Russian invasion of Ukraine – sending arms to Ukraine, raising military budget by 15 billion euros per year and so on. The overwhelming feeling in the workplaces is that the working people should not pay for a senseless war.

Q: How about the economic situation, inflation, the high public debt, etc? What is the impact on the working class and the youth? 

A: The situation resembles the seven plagues of the Holy Bible: war, drought and heatwave (that in some regions caused swarms of grasshoppers), devastating farmlands and skyrocketing prices. All these calamities hit the country whilst the time of repaying the huge EU-loans gets closer. 

Meanwhile, there are 5.6 million people living in absolute poverty, a number that has tripled since 2005. Inflation hits wages and more than half of the new jobs are precarious, the highest figure since 1977.  

Q: Do you think these can be reflected in mass mobilisations and protests?

A: They can, of course, but I think it’s unlikely we will see massive and generalized mobilizations, although we cannot rule out localized protests. On the other hand, the pandemic and the war have been affecting the level of consciousness of the working people and the youth, so that the next years could be politically very fruitful for the socialist Left. 

Q: What do you expect in the elections of September 25? Who do you think will be able to take advantage of the situation?

A: Most commentators expect a victory of the “Center-Right Coalition” led by Giorgia Meloni (Fratelli d’Italia). Certainly, that is the most likely scenario, but I wouldn’t rule out surprises. Due to the electoral law, it seems to me that the Center-Right Coalition may not get a sufficient number of seats in the Senate. That could force it into larger alliances, which could be helpful to Meloni to face the impending crisis. 

Furthermore, some major splits took place over the last week. Luigi Di Maio, former leader of the 5SM and foreign affairs minister left with 60 MPs and founded a new party. After Forza Italia voted against Draghi, 3 ministers and prominent figures of Berlusconi’s entourage quitted the party. 

I would say we are in the midst of a wave of decompositions and rearrangements of the political structure, the results of which are not yet clear.

Q: What is the state of the far-right in Italy and what are its perspectives?

A: What is the meaning of far-right in the Italian context? I mentioned Fratelli d’ Italia and the Northern League as official members of the “Center-Right coalition”, together with Forza Italia. Most of the left-wing commentators would label Salvini and Meloni as fascists. I think they are nationalists and reactionary, but not fascist, and they use far-right bombastic language; their parties are rather conservative neoliberal parties, with small circles of far-right activists in their ranks, while Forza Italia is a traditional liberal right-wing party. These organizations are subject to the same crisis of all Italian establishment parties. 

The small far-right and neofascist groups are facing a major crisis for different reasons. Some of them tried to take advantage the anti-vax movement, but with poor results. The whole leadership of Forza Nuova is in jail, after having led an attack to the CGIL head office in Rome during an anti-vax demo in October 2021. The leader of Casapound, the “fascists of the new millennium”, quitted the party recently. 

Q: Is there any hope of the Left recovering in the present circumstances, after its massive crisis over the past 10-15 years? 

A: The RC (Communist Refoundation) and other left groups, together with the former mayor of Naples, launched Unità Popolare a couple of weeks ago. It is a clumsy attempt to emulate the French NUPES led by Melenchon. Indeed, they didn’t draw any lesson from the experience of the “Tsipras List” back in 2014. 

Instead of focusing on social contradictions they continue to be affected by the disease of parliamentary cretinism. Therefore, I think that nothing new could develop from these organizations. However, there is still a great deal of work to be done, that is to prepare the ground for a new generation of Marxists, which could unfold only through study, discussion and intervention in the class struggle. 

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