It is a long time since we met in Florence on 9 December 2011 at the forum on ‘La via d’uscita’ (‘The way out’) and it seems even longer because of the intensification of the austerity attacks which have been hitting Europe after the 2008 crisis. The push from the movements has not weakened, even if, as Donatella Della Porta observes, this second wave is more national in character compared to the first one, the Global Justice mobilisation. But it is important that we are moving from protest to proposals, from the generous but unrealistic ‘We won’t pay for your crisis’ – indeed we are paying for it everyday – to ‘How is an alternative possible’.
The powers that be and the ruling institutions seem to be the only ones not hearing this voice, when indeed they don’t attempt to suffocate it, as in Greece and Spain. They keep following the neoliberal road, imposing the burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of the least wealthy countries and onto the subaltern classes. It’s a cruel and dead-ended way, and it’s not only the hardcore Marxists who keep reiterating this, but also scholars like Krugman and Stiglitz, and some of our local voices, like Luciano Gallino or Guido Rossi. Portugal, Spain, Italy, and, more dramatically, Greece, are in, or are entering, recession. Growth does not take off, while the debt to pay the debt is growing (by four points here in Italy). Whatever Mario Monti says, recovery is nowhere to be seen.
In France, the Hollande government and its small alterations, have announced the fiscal norms for the wealthiest, which has stirred turmoil from the Right and all of the mainstream media. This has actually affected public opinion, and you can hear poor people in the local markets, repeating rhetoric like, ‘if the government taxes them, you can’t blame them for going abroad’. In France at least one firm per week goes out of business or relocates abroad, the projected national growth has been reduced from 0.8 to 0.2, public services are being heavily cut (apart from education and healthcare), the unemployed number is more than three million (10% of the labour force) and that number is growing.
The numbers of unemployed in Europe has reached almost 26 million, a figure which does not include – which is a real scam – the millions of casual workers, employed only for a few days per month or per year (Gallino, Fumagalli). The ECB managed to stop excessive financial speculation against the most indebted countries, but these countries have had to accept the imposition of extreme conditions, whilst the strongest countries are attempting to put their spending under control, and veto it if necessary. The reluctance of the ‘hard working’ North helping the ‘lazy’ South shows the weakness of continental solidarity.
As soon as the Euro seemed to be saved, the intention to move to a two-speed Europe was revealed. If it were a cruel but an effective therapy it would make a bit of sense. But it’s not. It doesn’t solve the public fiscal crisis and it pushes 90% of the population to despair. The richest 10% and especially the richest 1% are continuing to feast on the backs of the rest. The result is that everywhere, a new far Right is emerging which blames not only the masters, but Europe and its mechanisms too. The arena of the Left is being conquered by fascist models that had appeared to be finished at the end of WWII. But the most powerful are managing to take advantage of what once was the obvious and maybe a rather crude resentment against the rich. The Left, in their fear, seem to have forgotten the lessons of the twentieth century.
The question we must ask at the new meeting at Florence 10+10 – starting today – is why the explanations, the power, and the mobilisations of the movements have failed so far to open a breach in the effective wall of the neoliberal governments, and make no impact on the majority of the population, who are voting for them. On what kind of disillusion, disorientation, and mistrust are they founded? One out of every two Sicilians did not vote last week, which has never happened before. Between our focused mobilisations based on solidarity and the institutions, there is the space of abstention and ‘grillismo (from Beppe Grillo – Movimento Cinque Stelle), opening another crack in our battered democracy. We are now facing very urgent tasks and the time is short.
It seems clear to me that we must strengthen the unity of those moving in the same direction as us. We must put reasonable pressure on the unions, who are divided within each country and within the continent itself, even when the masters they are facing are the same. In this way they can be easily attacked by the local Marchionne of each country. We must ensure that all the historical Left forces and their supporters fully face the facts that they have been disoriented and have sometimes switched to the other side. They are being continually forced into compromises, and their influence, once mighty, is being ostensibly eroded. True, a cultural and moral tsunami happened from the 1980s up to today, and it is stupid to say that it’s just that ‘the times are changing’. Capitalism won, there’s no way around it. It is now up to us to expose its cracks as well as its inhumanity. The evidence of the ecological arguments should not be the object of disputes, but a great boost for the best tradition of the Left.
For what concerns Sbilanciamoci and its many collaborators, the forecasts stated in ‘Rotta d’Europa’ are all becoming the reality. If our persistence was useful in obtaining a small taxation on financial transactions – not a great achievement – we must proceed on this road with reason and determination. The power of finance is still vastly out of proportion, and it is a continual source of increasing inequalities and the corruption of democracy. Europe accepted with ease that foreign corporations could steal its know-how on its territory, only to depart after a few years leaving entire areas deserted and thousands of workers unemployed – the latest case is that of the French iron metallurgical industry, that Mittal is getting rid of. This exposes the naïve adoration of the markets, that fear one devil only, that of nefarious protectionism. The same could be said for any control on the movement of capital, and for tax evasion. Even in the USA, which used to doing anything for their companies, the threat of ‘if you raise my taxes I’ll leave’ is answered by saying that ‘if you fiscally leave, you’ will lose your citizenship.’
There is much to be changed, and we need to open a new way for growth. A responsible, eco-compatible growth, which is able to get rid of all the waste caused by the way we live our lives. There’s no money? We are burdened by the debt? Well, the Southern European countries, trying to get France involved, must renegotiate together and must firmly renegotiate the timing of repayment. The tightening of the noose around the necks of Greece and Spain must be stopped. What could happen? Germany will start a war against us? I do not think so. We are more constrained by our cowardice than by the threat of Mrs. Merkel, who has her own troubles and has possibly a fatal deadline in less than one year. Current European policies are indefensible. Neoliberalism is unable to come out of the swamp which it has created.
Rossana Rossanda is the author of ‘The Comrade from Milan’, a much lauded account of the European Left in the twentieth century, published by Verso. Available here : http://www.versobooks.com/books/476-the-comrade-from-milan