Italian Elections: Why Did the Right Wing Win, and What Does it Prepare?

On Sunday, what is described as the “most right-wing” government since the Second World War was elected to office in Italy, with Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), led by Giorgia Meloni, emerging as the first party, with 26% of the votes cast. How does one explain this surge in votes for a party that in 2018 won a mere 4.3% and elected only 32 MPs and 18 Senators? We will outline in this article the reason why such a radical change has taken place in Italian politics and outline the most likely perspective.

But first let us look at the raw facts. The centre-right coalition won 43.82% of the votes against the centre-left’s 26.2%. The PD (Democratic Party) at 19.11% has fallen below the important psychological barrier of 20%. The M5S (Five Stars) at 15.33%, did better than expected, although it did far worse than back in 2018. The League, led by Salvini, suffered a heavy defeat at 8.8%, doing just slightly better than Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which won 8.1%; Azione-Italia Viva (a splinter group of former PD MPs, including Renzi) won 7.78%; Italian Left/Greens won 3.64% and a number of smaller forces failed to break through the 3% threshold needed to be elected to parliament. This includes the Popular Union (which had as one of its components Rifondazione Comunista)—the only real left coalition—that scraped together a miserable 1.43%.

The final balance of forces in both Parliament and the Senate is not yet available, due to the complicated electoral system, but it seems likely that Meloni’s coalition will have a majority of around 235 MPs of the 400 member chamber and 115 Senators—the Senate has 206 senators. Fratelli d’Italia’s share of this will be 118 MPs and 66 senators, which means Meloni will have to constantly compromise with the League and Forza Italia, making for what could prove to be an unstable coalition as each party seeks to gain at the expense of its partners. The Financial Times has in fact referred to Meloni and Salvini as “frenemies” due to the fact that they were competing to win the same electorate and to their differences over public spending and the Ukraine war.

Abstention

What is particularly significant is the low turnout of 63.91%, almost 10 percentage points lower than the 73% in 2018. To this we will need to add those who turned out but cast a blank or spoiled ballot paper, which in 2018 amounted to over 3% (this year’s figures are not yet available but could be higher), which would bring the total number of Italian voters who support no party to around 40%. This underlines the growing distance between a huge layer of the population and all the existing parties. Compare this to 1976, when over 93% of the electorate turned out to vote, and one gets an idea of the process that has been taking place. In fact, the number of people abstaining in one way or another (around 40%) is now the single largest bloc, much greater than even the party that came first in these elections.

Mussolini Image German Federal Archive
In the past, Giorgia Meloni has openly expressed sympathies for Mussolini. / Image: German Federal Archive

A lot of people on the left, especially the older activists, will certainly be feeling depressed. Some may even be fearing that Italy is moving in the direction of fascism due to Giorgia Meloni’s openly expressed sympathies for Mussolini in the past. Back in 1996, when she was 19 years old, this is what she said to a French TV channel:

I think Mussolini was a good politician. Everything he did, he did for Italy. There have been no other politicians like him in the last fifty years.

Since then, her tune has changed somewhat. This is what she said last month:

The Italian Right consigned fascism to history decades ago, unambiguously condemning the lack of democracy and the infamous anti-Jewish laws.

However, the question is not whether subjectively Meloni has sympathies for Mussolini or not. The fact is that Fratelli d’Italia is not a fascist party that is about to march on Rome, remove parliamentary democracy and install a one-party dictatorship. Any attempt to move in that direction would unleash the workers and youth of Italy, and the Italian ruling class would be facing revolutionary ferment. Also, we must note that with barely 64% of the electorate turning out, the votes cast for Fratelli d’Italia amount to 16% of the overall electorate, i.e. one in six Italians. It is therefore important to have a sense of proportion when looking at the figures.

Giorgia Meloni has been shifting her ground for some time and moving towards a more “responsible” position. She has even moderated her stance on the European Union, just as Marie Le Pen did in France. These right-wing reactionaries play up anti-EU sentiments, but the closer they get to government the more they fall in line with the needs of the capitalist class. In fact, one of the words Meloni has repeated many times since winning the election is “responsibility.” The question we have to ask ourselves is: responsibility to whom? She is sending a clear message to the Italian bourgeois and to the European Union that under her government Italy will remain within the EU and will carry out policies in line with the needs of capitalism. She was not the preferred politician of the ruling class, but she is saying to them: “you can trust me.”

We also need to remember that Meloni has been in government before. She was Minister for Youth Affairs in the Berlusconi government in 2008 and she later voted for the cuts in pensions promoted by the technocratic government of Monti in 2011, known as the “Fornero reform.” Only later did she declare that she was against it! Now, of course, she claims to present something new. But what does she stand for?

She is an utterly reactionary right-wing bigot. For instance, in recent years she has expressed her opposition to a law that forbids police officers from using torture during interrogations; she is against gay marriage; she is against granting citizenship to the children of immigrants born in Italy; she poses immigration as a threat to “Italian identity”; she has expressed clear Islamophobic views and wants to set up a naval blockade of Libya; she wants to limit the right to abortion and so on. She also totally supports NATO and its war efforts in Ukraine and will be a contributing element in the continuation of sanctions against Russia, sanctions that are really hurting the Italian economy. Although this will also be a source of friction with her allies Salvini and Berlusconi, who are both inclined towards achieving some kind of compromise in Ukraine in the hope of alleviating some of the economic pressures.

Explaining Fratelli d’Italia’s victory

So, the question remains: how did she manage to lead the Fratelli d’Italia to such an electoral victory? The answer is quite simple: hers was the only real opposition party during the last parliament. Draghi, the former governor of the European Central Bank, was called in to lead a grand coalition made up of the PD, the Five Stars, the League, Forza Italia, Renzi’s Italia Viva and some smaller forces, with a seemingly solid majority of 562 MPs out of a total of 629. Backed by the EU with massive funding—i.e. greater indebtedness—his task was to stabilize Italy in the interests of national and international capital.

Draghi Image European Parliament
Outgoing prime minister Draghi was becoming a hated man among many layers. / Image: European Parliament

However, the life of ordinary Italians has been worsening as each year passes. Italy’s public debt is amongst the highest in the advanced industrialized countries, forcing every government to seek ways of paying it off, and it is always the working class that pays. Inflation is getting close to the 9% mark, while the country has among the lowest wages in Europe. So-called flexible working conditions have been introduced, rendering millions of workers precarious, with no permanent labor contracts. Poverty has been increasing, especially in the south. In many areas the youth find it very difficult to find jobs.

Meanwhile, privatization has whittled away at the gains of the past. Healthcare has deteriorated, transport networks have worsened, education is massively underfunded and there is a general feeling of malaise, a feeling that “we can’t go on living like this.” The pandemic added to the stresses; while the inflationary spiral and the deepening economic crisis, together with the impact of the war in Ukraine, with energy bills skyrocketing, have further strengthened this feeling. Draghi was becoming a hated man among many layers.

That explains why all the forces that had participated in his government did so badly in these elections. The PD is considered to be the only really reliable party for the bourgeois class, and its leader Letta who has now had to resign as party leader—is a prime example of a bourgeois politician completely out of touch with the needs of working people. At one point, the PD went above the 40% mark in the 2014 European elections, but since then it has been in decline, and the latest vote leaves it at one of its lowest results ever.

The League, which at one point, in the 2019 European elections won 34% of the vote, had over 17% in the 2018 elections, but has now lost more than half of that. Forza Italia, which in its heyday could muster around 30% in a general election, is a shadow of its former self, going down to 14% in 2018 and now to just over 8%. The Five Stars (M5S), which won a huge vote back in 2018 of almost 33%, has lost more than half its votes this time round—although it did better than the opinion polls were indicating, especially in the south.

What all this shows is that any party that governs Italy is consumed by the crisis it has to govern over. Parties come in with promises of making life better for the mass of working people, but then the logic of capital means they have to quickly abandon those very same promises. The same fate awaits Meloni, who will end up being hated by many of those who have just voted for her. This winter is going to be very difficult for working-class families, and she has no way of alleviating the pain.

No alternative on the left

The tragedy of this whole situation is that there is no viable or credible force on the left that could have offered an alternative. The responsibility for this scenario falls on the shoulders of the reformist left—in particular the former leaders of the old Communist Party, who sold out completely to the bosses. And the leaders of Rifondazione Comunista also must take their share of responsibility.

Five Star Movement Image Niccolò Caranti
So empty was the scenario on the left back in 2018 that the Five Stars Movement was able to fill the vacuum. / Image: Niccolò Caranti

When the old PCI split in two in 1991, the majority would quickly move to the right, forming the Democratic Left Party (PDS), which then gave way to the Democratic Party (PD). The minority formed Rifondazione Comunista, which was seen as the most left-wing party in parliament, reaching a peak of over 8% in the 1996 elections, and with over 100,000 members. In the name of “stopping the right wing,” however, just when the party was at its peak electorally, its leaders decided to back the Prodi-led Centre-Left coalition government, and then in 2006 it actually entered the second Prodi government, taking upon itself responsibility for that government’s anti-working-class policies.

This led to the disastrous result in 2008, when it lost all its MPs, and it has not recovered since. In yesterday’s elections, what is left of Rifondazione stood in an alliance of other left groups under the name of Unione Popolare (Popular Union), which won just 1.4%, well below the 3% threshold. The Marxists explained over and over again that class collaboration would be disastrous for the party, but its leaders refused to listen. They have been paying the price ever since.

So empty was the scenario on the left back in 2018 that the Five Stars Movement was able to fill the vacuum and emerge as the first party in parliament. Millions of Italians placed their aspiration in this movement, hoping that it would bring about the desired change. But under the pressure of the needs of the capitalist class, the Five Stars first formed a coalition government with the League, and later ended up in coalition also with the PD under Draghi. It promised much and delivered little, suffering a split in the meantime. Because of this, it seemed destined to fall below the 10% mark and become a dwindling and dying force.

However, seeing the writing on the wall, Conte, the present leader of the M5S and former premier, realized it was time to end their support for Draghi or face being smashed in the elections. He therefore came out with a position of not supporting sending arms to Ukraine—a very popular demand in Italy—and withdrew support for the government. He understood he had to tack to the left if he was going to save his political career.

There is another element in Conte’s ability to avoid an absolute electoral disaster. The M5S has made a name for itself as the promoter of what is known as the “Citizen’s Wage”: a form of unemployment benefit for the very poor, which did not exist before they came into office. This is the one positive demand that they delivered on, but the right-wing coalition headed by Giorgia Meloni has promised to abolish the Citizen’s Wage, which is presently being received by 3.5 million Italians, a large part in the south. That explains why the Five Stars did so well in the South, winning around 25% in many areas, and in Campania 1—the Naples metropolitan area—over 40%.

This is a clear signal that the new government will come into conflict with millions of Italians who are suffering the consequences of the present crisis. Meloni has promised to govern for “all Italians” and she speaks of uniting Italy. She will achieve the exact opposite. She will hit the poor; she will attack women’s rights; she will do nothing for the youth. She will bring out the real class divide that exists in the country and will sharpen the process of polarization.

Struggle to come

After the elections, the working class will find itself completely blocked on the political front. Some, having been disillusioned by the Five Stars, have turned to the only opposition force in parliament, Fratelli d’Italia. But Meloni will not bring the change its electors are seeking. Her party is an openly pro-capitalist, right-wing bourgeois force, and it will abide by the needs of the class it really represents. It will very quickly become abundantly clear that the mass of working people and the youth have nothing to hope for from this parliament.

This means that the road is being prepared for the working class to turn from the political front to the industrial front, and we can expect spontaneous mass movements of the youth and women, should there be attempts to attack the right of abortion, or other right-wing provocations. Faced with a huge right-wing majority in parliament, the masses will have no other option but to turn to strikes, both official and spontaneous wildcat strikes, and to street protests, and the youth will be a key element in this. The right wing has won in parliament but this prepares merely a new stage in the class struggle.

On Friday of last week, thousands of young people were out on the streets protesting over the issue of climate change—by which Italy has been particularly badly affected, with long months of drought followed by sudden flash flooding that has killed several people. There is a renewed thirst for radical ideas among the youth. The right wing and the bourgeois may be comforted by the idea that they successfully destroyed the PCI, the strongest Communist Party in Western Europe with its two million members, but the memory of that tradition lives on.

That explains why a layer of youth are seeking out communist organizations today. They see the present crisis of the capitalist system and understand that it must be removed if humanity is to go forward. In these conditions, in the words of Marx, “the whip of the counter-revolution” is preparing a huge working-class backlash. And in these conditions, the Marxists are dedicating their energies to building the forces of revolution.


Want to get involved? Drop us a line to join the fight for socialism in our lifetime:


Click to Donate