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The outlook for Italy is grim, but the left can learn from this election

ITALY’S election results show the radical right is continuing to advance across the continent — and expose the ongoing decline of what liberals term the “centre-left.”

Matteo Renzi’s Democrats, the party of incumbent Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, suffered “not a defeat, but a disaster,” as Daniela Preziosi writes in Il Manifesto, limping in with less than a fifth of the popular vote.

Victory is now being claimed both by the contradictory but chauvinist Five Star Movement, which emerged as the largest single party, and the so-called “centre-right coalition” which brings together the party of sex pest and tax fraudster Silvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia, with Matteo Salvini’s League (formerly the Northern League) and the Brothers of Italy, organisations that flirt more openly with fascism.

As a group, these parties claimed the most votes as expected, though the League has now eclipsed Berlusconi’s outfit within the alliance — another marked shift rightwards.

We can expect lengthy wrangling as Five Star and the League seek coalition partners in a hung parliament.

The make-up of Italy’s next government is unclear, as is what its attitude is likely to be to the European Union. Both self-declared victors have called for Italy to leave the single currency, though Five Star’s leader Luigi di Maio has flip-flopped on the issue. Inevitable coalition talks will provide plenty of room to ditch awkward promises.

What seems incontrovertible is that Italy’s refugees, immigrant population and ethnic minorities will need solidarity and support in the coming months: mass deportations have been promised by Salvini and di Maio alike, and both have helped feed the growing “culture of hatred and xenophobia” highlighted by Communist Refoundation national secretary Maurizio Acerba following the racist shootings in Macerata a month ago.

What is equally incontrovertible is that anti-racist work on its own will not be enough, but will need to be part of building a socialist alternative.

Renzi’s Democrats, after some initial hesitation, signed up to a number of anti-racist rallies recently, one of which saw tens of thousands take to the streets.

It was not enough to prevent meltdown for a party discredited by attacks on pensioners (the right-wing parties vowed to reverse rises to the pension age that it imposed) and on labour rights (Renzi’s Jobs Act undermined job security, leading to a rise in precarious and short-term work).

It may also have looked hypocritical, given the Democrats’ willingness to indulge anti-immigrant rhetoric and stigmatise asylum-seekers when electorally convenient.

Coming so shortly after the decision by Germany’s Social Democrats, who also received a drubbing at the last election, to renew the “grand coalition” with right-wing Chancellor Angela Merkel that landed them in this mess, the Italian results confirm the hopelessness of attempting to defeat the far right through socialists aligning themselves with the liberal Establishment.

The cancer of racism can only be cut out if the causes are addressed — and that means ending the supremacy of the market.

The left must offer a new deal which places working people and their families’ needs first through a programme of strengthening workplace rights, empowering trade unions, extending public ownership and redistributing wealth.

Only through such policies do we tackle the poverty, insecurity and anxiety that provide a breeding ground for racism.

It is no coincidence that Britain’s Labour Party, the only mainstream left party in a major European country to offer such a programme, is bucking the trend and leading in the polls.

And if Labour wants to secure and build on that lead, it has to remain “as radical as reality itself” and avoid being house-trained by the British, European and transatlantic institutions which have created the current crisis.


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