Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

The Italian left should appeal to the urban middle class

Italy is a right-wing country, where the Vatican retains a strong influence and a majority of the population belong to the urban middle class. The left needs a new appeal to these sectors if it is to challenge Berlusconi, argues Paul Ginsborg

April 13, 2008
4 min read

Last night (29 February) I was at Montespertoli, a small town 30 minutes from Florence, for an election campaign launch. There were six men on the platform aged between forty and sixty-five. The coordinator of this left grouping was younger, a local government administrator who’d got his degree in history with me. About 65 people were present, a few young people, a few women, but mostly they were the same age and gender as the platform speakers. What struck me about all the interventi was how they appealed to one class only – the themes were safety at work, trade union rights, very low wages ( now amongst the lowest in Europe), etc. All this was sacrosanct but not enough. When it was my turn I tried to talk about the fact that there are now more than 55 per cent of the Italian working population who belong to the urban middle classes. This is a very composite section of Italian society – there is a very large sector of self-employed people (running small, often dynamic family businesses), and the great majority of these are Berlusconi fans. But there is also a significant sector of white- collar work in the public sector – technicians, impiegati in local and regional administration, teachers, graduates working in a variety of roles in the public sector. Many of these people were mobilised by the anti-Berlusconi protests of 2001-2002- girotondi and other similar initiatives. They are very angry about things like the conflict of interests, Berlusconi’s near monopoly of commercial television, his attacks on the judicial system, etc. The Sinistra Arcobaleno does not talk to them. By and large campaign initiatives on Berlusconi are considered ‘counter-productive’, both by Veltroni and by Bertinotti.

So I find myself in this strange situation. Foreign correspondents in Italy ask me to talk about Berlusconi and convey a sense of how appalling it is that the country is very likely to return to his dominion. European public opinion is deeply worried about the prospect, and not just Left opinion. But in Italy nobody in the parties wants to talk about Berlusconi any more. It’s all ‘old hat’. And behind this lies a great analytical weakness – the failure to take on the question of cultural instruments, especially television, and the necessary guard dog role of public authorities, totally lacking in Italy.

To summarise, then, I think there is a very significant section of the middle classes who could be won to an intellectually renewed and culturally vigorous Sinsitra Arcobaleno. That’s not what we’ve got at the moment. The new party, if it is born, will be born old. The only way to combat this is by what we are trying to do in Florence, and what Paolo Cacciari and friends in the Veneto are doing: build up strong local and regional associations, which push constantly for reform – generational change, gender change, etc., analytical renewal, etc. – and who have the mass membership to back up their demands.

As for Berlusconi and company, all Italy’s history shows that it is basically a right-wing country, heavily influenced by the Vatican. The composition of the Italian middle classes goes very much in his favour, and dependent workers in small family firms tend to vote the way their bosses vote. But there is also a very strong, though minoritarian, tradition of left-wing action and mobilisation. That is far from dead. It now has to be put in an organisational and intellectual context which is radically new. The Sinistra Arcobaleno is absolutely not that at the moment. But it could approximate to it if we move the right way during and after the elections.

Paul Ginsborg is Professor of Contemporary European History at University of Florence and a frequent public commentator on politics and life in Italy. He is the author ofSilvio Berlusconi: Television, Power and Patrimony. (January 2007)

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism

Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists

Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson

As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win

The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution

Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.

‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death