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Commentary Last Updated: Apr 17th, 2008 - 00:30:53

�No we can�t� - the collapse of the Italian left
By Mary Rizzo
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Apr 17, 2008, 00:13

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Something totally unexpected happened in Italy Monday night. It officially became American.

In a country that boasted hundreds of parties (too many, for sure) and political factions, our parliament has eliminated all elements of the left from the parliament, including parties that existed from the founding moments of our Republic, and parties that, elsewhere in Europe, govern nations as large as Spain and Great Britain. There are no more Communists in the parliament. Socialists are gone too. The Greens have faded to black. What we have is the stew of a party that copies in slogan and in fact the US Democratic Party. �Si pu� fare� was the slogan . . ."Yes we can.� Never catering to any kind of difficult analysis but being all smiles and handshakes, installing the idea of �change� (but if they had governed for the past two years, what change were they asking us to believe in?) rather than in recognising that Italy is a country on the verge of collapse and if we don�t fix things quickly, we are going to feel it painfully.

And, I�m not surprised the self-styled �radical� left was excluded by the vote. They had no imagination to go beyond inserting their politicians here and there, making sure that they maintained their positions, without ever raising a self-critical voice to the positions they had adopted during their two-year reign in power, including allowing US colonisation in this country, from the enormous extension of the Dal Molin US military base to the �mission� in Lebanon and the refinancing of the Afghan war effort. They succeeded in raising hospital costs and sticking the union demands in a public offer to salvage Alitalia from certain bankruptcy and loss of jobs, all in the name of �protecting the national company,� as if we really need a national airline!

They addressed a class that does not even exist, catering to the enormous category of state employees, taking advantage of social conflict between aspects of the disenfranchised, promising everything to everybody, from a minimum wage to a moveable salary scale that they can�t finance, to increased in pension funds. They certainly did not extend a cent towards the financing of my area of work, which is art conservation, because they believe they can get a lot of the work in �free training� of college students. Unfair competition is what it is called, while they see it as the Band-Aid that is the only way Italy resolves its problems.

They did not face the ecological and social disaster of waste disposal, and true to form, if there is anything that needs doing, from putting out the forest fires that are now the leitmotif of our summers and the feeding of the poor or aid to immigrants, it is all passed off to the enormous league of the millions of unpaid volunteers, which has always been something Italy excels in, having this solidarity resource that covers up all the holes that otherwise would send our beautiful country to the bottom of a pit, never to crawl back up.

There was more than enough to criticise them for, and they did not bother to look into this, therefore, losing millions of votes and consensus from their base. They never bothered to ask themselves what their base thought. From Parlato, the editor of the major leftwing newspaper, who supports the Israeli place of honour at the Turin book festival, to Turco, the health minister, who let certain categories such as dentists run a totally free market service with no limit or no alternative provided by the State, to Bersani, the economic development minister, with his new laws on selling property, which will do nothing but line the pockets of the �approved� companies that inspect to updated �standards� and will freeze a real estate market that is already on its knees.

The resolution of the conflict of interest in the mass media was not even on the agenda, and, rather, we got the national outlets that stopped any kind of criticism of anyone. Everyone was democratic, every party got its 2-minute blurb on the news, which was to state that the other parties were not right. A half-hour of The Family Feud every evening would turn anyone�s stomachs, as there was no space remaining to honestly state that �we are mad as hell and we aren�t going to take it any more!� No, all of it became political salons and bla bla bla. And what is worse, the people most committed to social change abandoned the scene faster than anyone else.

I have always loved the fact that Italy had an enormous amount of major left parties and newspapers. Yet, in the two years the left was in power, it lost all sense of self-critique, and developed an idolisation of itself based on the assumption that people would trust that the politicians knew best. We stopped trusting a while back, as they betrayed us one day after the other.

I am, of course, unhappy about the complete absence in my country of a formal institutional representation of the left. I am of course unhappy about the prospect of another Berlusconi term, and I am terrified of the implications on foreign policy. I am unhappy that there was no internal mechanism of the left leaning parties that adjusted them to the sentiments of the people who are completely fed up with the governing left and miserable with the right. The minimum common denominator brought us the misery, and to be honest, it is not causing me pain as it did seven years ago. The failure of the system as a whole is the earthquake that perhaps we need to rebuild.

I translated the below article by a Christian Social group, from their newpaper �La Rocca�


By Raniero La Valle for n. 9 of Rocca (

The blitz was a success. The Democratic Party lost, but the left has been completely excluded from the parliament. The operation in which an entire political area of the nation has been thrown out of the parliament, for reasons of its proposals and even its name, is a classic operation that smells of regime, that as a matter of fact, not even Fascism, during its parliamentary phase, was able to do. Certainly the forced and litigious cohabitation within the Prodi coalition needed to be amended, but not through the massacre of political forces. The �incomplete democracy� of the �First Republic� meant that the Communist left would be excluded from government, which only provoked a lengthy torment and the aggregation outside the institutions of fringe groups active outside the parliament. The �simplified democracy� of the Pannellian and Veltronian two-party philosophy means that the left as a whole is pushed into the zone outside the institutions. And that is how we�ve ended up with the armed party, and now the risk is that the social, economic and cultural issues that are no longer admitted into parliamentary mediation will be shifted to other spheres of struggle, in the best of hypotheses to marches and demonstrations and in the worst to the casseurs that we saw in the Parisian peripheries.

This result is the outcome, without a doubt, of the total lack of realism of a left that has accepted to let itself be labelled as �radical,� �antagonist� and �maximalist,� echoing those very terms in their own newspapers, and it even forgot that there can be no left in Italy if it does not in some measure also assume the culture and the political passion of a non-clerical Christianity. Yet, all of that would not have been enough to produce the results of 14 April, that is rather the effect, completely artificial (and therefore undemocratic), of three joint factors.

The first is that the electoral law established that there would be a limit of 4 percent of total votes at the lower representative branch and 8 percent at the Senate, in order to enter into Parliament, in a system that did not have as its goal to destroy the minor parties, but to force them to make coalitions with the major ones in order to overcome, together, the requested percentage restrictions. It is, therefore, the case that with the same electoral law of the present legislature, as much as it has been criticised, had each party represented within the parliament.

The second factor is that the same electoral law hands out the premium of a minimum amount of 340 lower house representatives to assign to the winning list (and for the Senate, a regional premium), igniting in this way a heavy burden on the parliament and seriously conditioning the electoral position of the parties, but at least the law dictated that the awarding of the premium would go to a coalition, not to a single party.

The third factor is that Veltroni, without waiting for this system to be changed by democratic means, stripped it of its very nature, using the system against all logic and against the residual democratic character of the system, casting to the sea the coalition and praising his own self for being able to have shoved the allied parties out the door, from the Socialists to the Greens to Renewed Communists, while Berlusconi pretended to do the very same with his allies, however, keeping Fini (National Alliance and Northern League) close to his breast.

The result is that Berlusconi, �the old,� has won and Veltroni, �the new,� has lost -- the Northern League is preparing to impose the breaking of constitutional equality between the North and South of the nation, Casini (Centre Union, Catholic party) -- saves himself a �forget me not� position of a party that once was a recognisable Catholic presence and the left, uselessly united, abandons the Parliament, loses the public financing of their parties, will have a hard time keeping their headquarters and newspapers and even Vespa (television news conductor that praised bipolarism) today seems to show regret and even Fini laments that a lower house where these forces are not present is an �anomaly.� And, it is the height of absurdity that in this collapse, the losers are declaring victory, a victory of having set the foundations of an Anglo-Saxon and two-party system in Italy.

In reality, what has fallen in this earthquake is the illusion of a non-political Italy, where the problems that are pressing on us and the severe conflict of interests in a social sphere and in those of need, can be resolved or ignored in the molasses of good manners. Faced head on with the winds of anti-politics, faced with the idiocy of the Ferrara�s (Abortion, No Thanks! Party) and the Jiminy Cricket Party, face to face with the accusation against the entire political �caste,' the winners were those who did the most �politics,� not whoever had taken refuge outside political games. Berlusconi played politics, because it is the maximum of politics to accuse all the others of being Communists; Veltroni didn�t even use the name of his adversary, maybe thinking that it wasn�t necessary to fight him, but to exorcise him. And in an Italy where we still have to fight for our right to bread, work, housing, health, he promised the �right to smile,� which we might interpret as sending the homeless and those with no job security to the dentist. Unfortunately, the smiles, on the night of 14 April, of millions of Italians, have turned into a grimace, one of worry and pain.

Mary Rizzo lives in Italy. Her blog is peacepalestine and she contributes as a translator to

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