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Socialist Review Index (1993–1996) | Socialist Review 176 Contents

Socialist Review, June 1994

Notes of the Month


Balancing act


From Socialist Review, No. 176, June 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


It took six weeks of infighting for Silvio Berlusconi to form his new Italian government. For the first time since the war fascists are in office, and it is not just a token presence. Five of the new ministers are from the National Alliance; three of them are members of the overtly fascist MSI, including Giuseppe Tatarella, one of the two deputy prime ministers. Tatarella is the new minister for communications. Fascists have also been put in charge of agriculture and higher education.

Meanwhile the federalist Northern League has put aside all its pre-election statements about refusing to cooperate with fascism. In return its members have control of law and order (through the interior ministry) and the ministry for institutional reform, which will play a key part in drafting a revised constitution.

The new coalition is, however, enormously vulnerable. Those who voted for the League have quite different aims from those who supported the National Alliance. Berlusconi’s triumphalist Forza Italia movement in reality contains an enormous vacuum: leaders of 2,000 Forza Italia ‘clubs’ were recently called to a meeting in Rome, in effect to construct the movement from the top down.

The National Alliance is divided between ‘modernisers’ (led by Gianfranco Fini) who are aiming at building a new right wing authoritarian party, and the unrepentant fascists who are now trying to gather round them a new layer of disaffected youth. As a result there are many accidents waiting to happen.

The fragility of the situation was shown by events in the northern town of Vicenza, where a demonstration by 200 ‘Nazi-skins’ led to a convulsion in the government. Many of the demonstrators were members and supporters of the MSI, including the secretary of the local youth wing of the party. The link between the sanitised National Alliance and the thugs and bootboys was shown up. Fini had to rush to repair the damage by expelling or suspending members and declaring his ‘opposition to historical fascism’. However, he was careful to stress the word historical.

The leadership of the National Alliance is trying to balance between respectable politics and the pressure from the active fascists. So, while Fini distances himself from the totalitarian past, he leads demonstrations calling for the restoration of the ‘Italian’ Balkans – Istria and Dalmatia – harking back to Mussolini’s imperial delusions.

To many Italians this is simply folklore, but the MSI has secured a big electoral base in Trieste with this claim. The MSI also called a demonstration for 24 May in honour of the anniversary of the declaration of war against Austria in 1915.

The response from the left has been magnificent at the rank and file level, pathetic at the top. The demonstrations on 24 April to commemorate the victory over fascism were supported by hundreds of thousands of people – more than 300,000 marched in pouring rain in the main demonstration in Milan. A demonstration of several thousand people in Vicenza, a week after the fascists marched, showed the potential of organised opposition at local level. In Palermo more than 50,000 people marched against the Mafia on the anniversary of the murder of the anti-Mafia investigator Giovanni Falcone.

At the same time the votes in works council elections across the country show that union organisation in key factories is as strong as ever. At Fiat’s Cassino site near Naples the main unions won 84 percent of the vote, with the left wing Fiom taking more than a third of the vote. At the Alfa Romeo plant in Arese near Milan, the militants of the Cobas (‘autonomous unions’) came top of the list, followed by the Fiom. The combined left vote was more than 2,500 out of 3,000 workers. These are very important votes on the eve of national pay negotiations in the engineering industry.

The danger is that pessimism at the top can weaken the will to fight. Fausto Bertinotti, the leader of the hard left Rifondazione Communista, which won 2.5 million votes in the election, speaks of Berlusconi’s government lasting ‘five or even ten years’. As for the leadership of the former Communist Party (the PDS), it has now committed itself formally to the role of ‘loyal opposition’. The model, it says without a shred of irony, should be the Labour Party in Britain.

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