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)


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill