The Italian crisis and the responsibility of the Communists

Andrea Catone (Editor-in-chief of the MarxVentuno review)

1. The Italian Constitution is based on parliamentary government. The president of the republic does not have the power to dictate the political direction of the government.

The President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella did not sign the nomination as Minister of Economy of Professor Paolo Savona, proposed to him, on the recommendation of the 5 Stars Movement (M5S) and League, by the President of the Council appointed Giuseppe Conte, who then resigned the mandate.

Mattarella justified his choice with a brief speech to the country where he said he had

« shared and accepted all the proposals for the ministers, except that of the Minister for the Economy. The appointment of the Minister for Economic Affairs is always an immediate message of confidence or alarm to economic and financial operators. I have asked, for that ministry, for the appointment of an authoritative political representative of the majority, who is consistent with the programme agreement. An individual who – beyond esteem and consideration for the person – is not seen as a supporter of a line, repeatedly shown, which could probably, or even inevitably, cause Italy to leave the euro [1]. This is quite different from a vigorous attitude, within the European Union, to change it for the better from an Italian point of view. In response to this request, I have noted – with regret – that no other solution was available, and the President-in-Office of the Council has resigned. Uncertainty about our position in the euro has alarmed investors and savers, both Italian and foreign, who have invested in our government bonds and in our companies […]. It is my duty, in carrying out the task of appointing ministers – which the Constitution entrusts to me – to be attentive to the protection of the savings of Italians […] The choice of joining the Euro is of fundamental importance for the prospects of our country and of our young people” [2].

The refusal to appoint Savona[3] as Minister is motivated by the President of the Republic on the basis of a political assessment. But our Constitution is based on the principle of parliamentary government and excludes the President of the Republic from dictating the political direction of the government.

In addition, after listing the current and future economic disasters (the spread that is growing day by day, threatening the savings of Italians, discouraging investors, increasing interest on debt, raising mortgages, etc..), Mattarella says that “many remember when – before the European Monetary Union – bank interest was close to 20 percent”. This is an obvious low propaganda compulsion, which refers to an internal and international economic-political context completely different from the present one, which has no scientific basis: on the one hand, it is a clumsy attempt to justify a decision that is difficult to justify (such as an excusatio non petita); on the other hand, it is the start of a ferocious electoral campaign in which the sole suspect of criticising the euro is stigmatised and banned. What happened on the 27th of May is a further violation of the Republican Constitution and its principle of national-popular sovereignty. It is not the first: it is in line with the statements of Cossiga, with the heavy interference of Napolitano and with the attempts to distort the Constitution, supported by Berlusconi, neo-fascists and League in the mid-2000s and more recently by the PD of Renzi (rejected by the referendum of December 5th, 2016). It accelerates and aggravates the Italian democratic crisis in the relationship between ruling groups and the masses (between what is now called the establishment and its democratic legitimization), a crisis that was clearly manifested in the vote on 4 March with the extraordinary affirmation (32%) of the M5S, which has in its rejection of the “caste”, of the annuities and privileges of the “politicians”, one of its pillars, and of the Salvini League.

The long Italian economic crisis, its prolonged decline, aggravated by the financial crisis and its management imposed by the ECB and supranational powers (see the letter from Trichet and Draghi that dictated the Italian economic and social policy agenda and paved the way for the Monti government [4]), were studded with partially aborted attempts at constitutional upheaval aimed at reducing the role of the elective assemblies, and with presidential pressure, in particular since 2011, when President Giorgio Napolitano replaced the constitutional role of super partes arbiter with that of decision-maker and promoter of the political direction and transformations of the Constitution: a perpetually mobile situation of constitutional transition aimed at “securing” the country’s Atlanticist and pro-European position, which the ruling classes have failed to achieve and which today presents itself with the new vulnus of an aborted government due to the presence of an economic minister suspected of criticising the euro.

2. Adventurism and subversion of M5S and the League

Mattarella’s choice opens a gap between state powers. It does not strengthen, but makes the country more fragile and further uncovers its limited sovereignty.

But the communists and those who refer to the workers’ movement cannot ignore that this worsening of the crisis has been lucidly and cynically pursued for electoral calculation by the League of Salvini, a force openly deployed to the right that has imposed in the government program (the “contract” so much trumpeted by Di Maio) the cancellation of those parts of the M5S program on public intervention in the economy. This “contract” – presented in alphabetical order and without a coherent policy line and in some points extremely detailed (and out of place in a political program) even on the role of chemical fertilizers and compost (point 4, p. 11) – was clearly dominated on economic issues by the neoliberal approach: the flat tax, with the idea that the greater availability of money would – with the Smithian “invisible hand” – miraculously initiate the economic recovery, without public planning and without state economic intervention. Salvini, placing the president of the Republic the Aut aut on the name of Savona – used as a ram’s head to overturn the table of an agreement with the 5S that was by now tight – tried, successfully, to break it, aggravating the political crisis, raising the level of the political clash on the issue of the euro. In this way, working together with those political forces that, defeated in the elections of 4 March, such as the PD of Renzi, have aimed at the collapse of the country (rejecting a priori the attempt of a coalition government with the M5S) to be able to return to the political game.

A clash over the EU and the euro implies, as the Greek affair has shown, a confrontation with very strong internal and international powers and therefore requires a preparation of forces, an awareness and a strategy that are not at all present in the country. Mattarella’s speech was right on one point: the euro/EU question was not at the center of the electoral campaign; the M5S immediately removed it, the League held it in some posters, but with prevalent reference to the immigration question.

Engaging in a battle against the most powerful forces without adequate preparation of the popular forces and without a precise strategy is in the worst tradition of Italian adventurism. The League, which today is demagogically agitating on the issue of national sovereignty, has raised the level of the clash for electoral purposes.

The M5S, which are based on the ideology of the overcoming of right and left and of the class struggle, inserting capital and labour in the same bag, after having immediately removed the critical positions on NATO and the EU, after having cancelled the public intervention in economics from the “contract” (a media staging in which several points are piled up, without the underlying thread of a political-economic strategy), have further shown to be a wavering force, which feeds on demagoguery (the “caste”, the “annuities”), but does not have the nerve, nor the cadres, nor a serious strategy to sustain a clash of such magnitude, such as that on the EU and the euro. After so many auto-da-fés to form the government, they handed over the decisive keys and the last word to the Salvini’s League, a much more structured and organized party.

These cannot be the forces to which entrust the direction and activation of a strategic project based on national-popular sovereignty, aimed at bringing Italy out of decline and giving real answers to the problems of economic development, employment, training and research.

The Italian situation is extremely dangerous: political crisis, economic crisis, institutional crisis are added up. The level of confrontation is being raised, but in the highest demagoguery: the demagoguery – also evident in Mattarella’s speech – which threatens economic catastrophes and calls for acts of blind, indisputable and absolute faith in the euro; and the demagoguery of those who, after presenting a programme that provides for an enormous increase in public expenditure without any cover (flat tax and citizenship income), claim that with the exit of the single currency the problems of the country would be magically solved.

3. In this situation, a genuine popular front must be built for the defence of the country.

The communists and those who are genuinely linked to the workers’ and democratic movement that has played such a positive role in the history of our country and in the construction of the Republic, cannot and must not accommodate either the bourgeoisie compradora pro-EU and pro-NATO, which today has in the PD of Matteo Renzi its main party of reference (someone has rightly baptized it “imperial left”), or the demagoguery, adventurism and potential subversion of the League or the ambiguous, wavering and confused M5S. The Communists cannot and must not limit themselves to the role of passive spectators in a clash, which, as it promises, accentuates demagoguery and distances us from a concrete path, a strategy for the country.

In this situation, the Communists have a duty to build a political front that is able to speak clearly and with the utmost rationality, free of vagueness and ambiguity, on the basis of a political programme of transition, that is able to recuperate the highest points of our tradition of struggle, starting from the anti-fascist Resistance and the drafting of the Constitution establishing economic and social democracy. A political program that is not the stuffing of different and not always in itself coherent demands (as was in part the program of “Power to the people”), nor that is the mere proposition of principle that everything is related to a future socialist revolution or makes grandiloquent proclamations without defining a concrete path in a long-term strategy.

Such a program, built and exposed on the basis of a clear, transparent, unambiguous discourse, which does not erase the capital-labour contradiction, nor the existence and clash of the classes (as it is in the “populist” ideology of the League and M5S), can be summed up in some essential basic lines, which the Constitution has traced:

1. Defending the parliamentary government and fighting for a proportional electoral law, as it was in the spirit of the Constitution of 1948, against any attempt to re-propose majority electoral systems. Fight against any presidential and authoritarian drift, which in this phase of institutional crisis could occur and be proposed (and is already in place).

2. Strong public intervention in the economy, with democratic planning (in the forms already provided for by the Constitution and in others that can be developed), under democratic control, of the development guidelines. It is in the first place on this, on the intervention of the state as an expression of popular national sovereignty, that the clash with the neo-liberal approach of the EU of Maastricht opens.

3. In recognition of a multipolar world, affirmation of an independent foreign policy, both by the US imperialism, which controls our country and Europe through NATO and which today, with Trump, is in competition with Germany, and by the German one, which moves inside and outside the EU, or by the French one, protagonist of military adventures in Africa and the Near East.

The communists and the forces that refer to the workers’ and democratic movement must know how to find wisdom and strength in the Italian crisis, which accelerates violently and gets worse, on the basis of the great unitary lessons that marked the best pages of the international and Italian workers’ movement, to build unity among themselves and to create a united front, in a clash that promises to be very difficult and vital, overcoming and leaving behind all the worst – and that’s a lot! – which has marked the history of the Communists and the workers’ movement in Italy over the last thirty years: low political calculation without strategic perspective, careerism, opportunism, personalism that put the particular personal interest before the general one, clan or group spirit rather than linked to an overall strategic vision, sectarianism, dogmatism, with the claim to be the only depositaries of truth and the right line, word of mouth proclamation of principles and insubstantiality of political action – and that has relegated them out of real history, in the role of witnesses or, worse, of subordinate “fans” of one or the other field of opposing demagogies that deceive the country, coming, as a French comrade bitterly observed, to the negative political masterpiece of touching the bottom and being able to go even further beyond the bottom …

If, in the precipitation of the Italian crisis, the Communists do not know how to resume the main road of unity in the construction of a popular front, history – paraphrasing a famous saying by Fidel Castro – will not absolve us.



1] Italics are mine, A.C.
2] See
3] Savona is the proposed minister for the economy. He is an economist who had roles in the National Confederation of Industrials and who headed a bank. Since the 1990s, he has expressed his opposition to Italy’s adhesion to the euro, which he considered contrary to the Italian economic structure and to the exclusive benefit of Germany and the countries of northern Europe.
4] See the special issue of MarxVentuno 1-2/2016 in more detail on the entire institutional crisis.