Despite recent student and labour unrest, the opposition against austerity measures in Italy has been quite weak, especially in terms of the numbers of people involved, compared to the rest of Southern Europe. At the end of last year, two mass demonstrations were organised against Berlusconi’s government; both ended in violent clashes between some of the protesters and the police.
However, Monti’s troika-sponsored government, although never elected by the people, has managed to gain for itself a much more solid legitimacy than its predecessor, thanks to its image of a neutral ‘technical’ government and the parliamentary support of a grand coalition that includes the centre-left Democratic Party. Monti’s government carried out some common sense measures, for example tougher checks on tax evasion (the efficacy of which is still to be assessed) which probably added to his credibility, alongside outright neo-liberal policies that involved massive cuts in public spending and the liberalisation of the labour market.
The main promoter of the 2011 demos is often referred to as the ‘social centres movement’. In spite of this collective term, this movement has a complex and plural history. The first social centres were occupied in the ’70s as an attempt by part of the extra-parliamentary Left to survive defeat in its frontal struggle against the state. The organisational structures survived the ’80s and flourished in the early ’90s with the ‘Pantera’ university movement, which coincided with a great surge in the number of occupied spaces.
The peak of the social centre movement was reached in the context of the Global Justice Movement, but the activists faced major difficulties in coping with the severe state repression in Genoa 2001 as well as their own internal divisions. Indeed, the fragmentation is so deep that it is hardly possible to talk of a single movement. Four main political areas can be distinguished that network different occupying collectives nationwide: ‘ex-Disobedient’, ‘autonomist’, ‘marxist-leninist’, and ‘anarchist’. The former three can be said to descend from the ‘Autonomy proper’, from the ’70s. Although the difficulties in finding smooth and shared ways to mobilise in concert (or to part ways) are certainly a problem, the social centres are one of the most positively impressive features of the Italian anomaly. Their mobilising capacity and their rootedness in the territory is very high compared to similar experiences elsewhere, and we should expect to see more significant opposition coming from this milieu.
On the parliamentary side, having had the remains of the Italian Socialist Party completely collapse in the last elections, the Italian parliamentary Left is all about the post-Communist Party diaspora. The mainstream of the Communist Party is now in the Democratic Party together with part of the old centre party Christian Democracy. The main party on the left of it used to be Rifondazione Comunista. After the downfall of the centre-Left government of which Rifondazione was part in 2008, the party split and the Left Ecology and Freedom Party emerged (Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà, SEL). This was partly more successful than many expected and its candidates won several important local elections, most notably the Milan administration.
SEL’s secretary, Nichi Vendola, is now challenging the incumbent Democratic Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani, and the Third Way candidate Matteo Renzi in the primary elections of the Left coalition (featuring the Democratic Party, SEL, and the Socialist Party) for the general elections of spring 2013.
Right now it is pretty certain that this coalition will gain the relative majority, but it is much less likely to be able to form a government. Much depends on the electoral law, which to this day has not been decided yet. Ironically, the Right is pushing for a more proportional law, because it would probably force the Democratic Party to dump its allies after the elections and form a new grand coalition troika-friendly government just like the present one. This outcome is made even more realistic by the relative success of two anti-establishment parties, Italia dei Valori e Movimento Cinque Stelle, which can hardly be defined as leftist, but that may gather a significant amount of votes from disillusioned supporters of the Left. Although a strong leftist government in power would be, in my view, desirable, it is much more likely that relevant opposition to the dictatorship of finance in the next years will come from the Italian streets and not from the Italian government.