Giorgia Meloni Giorgia Meloni, Photo: Public Domain

European elites and Italy’s centre-left will not oppose Meloni’s fascism, so we need a revival in anti-fascism to mobilise resistance, argues Chris Bambery

There was a dreadful certainty over recent weeks and months that Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right, ‘post-fascist’ Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, referencing the Italian national anthem) would emerge as the biggest party from Sunday’s general election, and as prime minister of a right-wing coalition government.

The inevitability flowed from the disillusionment of swathes of the population with all the other major parties, who had entered a coalition government led by an unelected ex-banker, Mario Draghi, the poster boy of the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Draghi championed a Brussels programme of the usual neo-liberal ‘reforms’, benefitting the elite at the expense of the many. The Italian centre left, the bastard offspring of the once powerful Communist Party, and the trade unions were uncritical in their support of Draghi, even when his coalition fell apart earlier this year, just as they have been uncritical of the unelected European Commission.

Political conditions favouring the far right

Meloni might have watered down her party’s criticism of the EU, but she benefitted from her decision not to enter the Draghi coalition, at the expense of her rivals on the right, Matteo Salvini of La Lega and former premier, Silvio Berlusconi. Many voters were, accordingly, ready to give her a chance as all the rest had failed them.

Her centre-left opponents put forward a message scripted in Brussels attacking any possible criticism of the EU, and suggesting that Meloni was pro-Putin (Salvini and Berlusconi have applauded him while Meloni has been keen to stress her support for Ukraine). These were not issues bothering most Italians who were more focused on the cost-of-living crisis and the country’s ailing economy, which has been stagnant for more than three decades.

Youth unemployment is high, particularly in the traditionally poor south and the islands, and a growing percentage of available jobs are precarious. Public debt is 150% of GDP, and Brussels demands the unleashing of free-market measures to reduce it.

In the final days of campaigning, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, when asked about Meloni’s euro-scepticism, pointed to EU measures against Hungary and Poland and to a huge post-Covid bail-out package, saying ‘we have the tools’ to deal with Meloni if she goes off message. Threatening to cut EU funding was not a message likely to appeal to ordinary Italians.

The concern of the European and Italian elites was about a Meloni-led government maintaining Draghi’s ‘reform programme’ and the united front in support of Ukraine against Putin. They have expressed satisfaction that the Italian president, who will appoint Meloni next month, also has to approve the appointment of her ministers, and expect he will ensure the finance minister has the approval of Brussels.

Under the Italian constitution, the president, the constitutional court and the central bank have considerable power, designed in the post-war years to limit any possibility of radical change, in case the once powerful Communist Party ever entered government. However, those elites are less concerned about how Meloni becoming premier will play out on the streets, where fascist thugs will feel emboldened to attack migrants, Muslims and LGBT people.

Meloni’s positioning

Hilariously, Clinton said in the build up to the election that Meloni becoming Italy’s first female prime minister would be a ‘good thing’, as if this would be step forward for feminism. This is an absurd misreading of what Meloni represents. Italy has a dreadful problem of gender violence, with 125 women killed between August 2021 and July 2022. The vast majority of these killers are Italian men, but Meloni and Fratelli only raise the issue when the perpetrators are migrants or non-Italian.

Meloni addressed the Spanish far-right Vox party earlier this year telling them: “Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby … no to Islamic violence, yes to secure borders, no to mass migration …  no to big international finance, no to the bureaucrats of Brussels.” She has described abortion as “a tragedy”. Thus she combines a stress on her Catholic values (fascism in Italy and Spain never had a problem with that) with the claim that international finance encourages mass migration to destroy Italian society, a classic fascist notion.

She herself joined the youth wing of the fascist MSI (Movimento Sociale Italiano; Italian Social Movement) in 1992 as a teenager in Rome. It morphed into the supposedly ‘post-fascist’ National Alliance, which joined the coalition government of Silvio Berlusconi as a junior partner. Meloni was made minister of youth in 2008, but four years later jumped ship, understanding that the sleaze around Berlusconi would bring his government down, to form Fratelli d’Italia.

The party took over the Rome head office of the old MSI and incorporated its burning-flame emblem into its own. Meloni applauded the deceased MSI-founder and its former president, Giorgio Almirante, despite the fact he was a minister in Mussolini’s 1943-1945 war-time Social Republic, based in northern Italy under Nazi occupation. In 1968, Almirante led MSI squads attacking students at Rome University.

Responses to fascism

Like the Sweden Democrats, likely to be kingmaker in the creation of a new right-wing government following recent elections, the Fratelli are rooted in the Nazi tradition. Meloni will head a coalition which will include Salvini and Berlusconi. Tensions already exist, although the poor performance of both men’s parties will exert greater discipline on them.

The coalition promises to implement tax cuts and to increase living standards, but the concern of the European and Italian elites is that she maintains Draghi’s ‘reform’ programme: the usual neo-liberal measures designed to weaken labour conditions and to boost the free market. This is the price for an EU post-Covid bail-out package of €260 billion.

But the main message of the Fratelli on the streets will be to blame migrants for Italy’s economic ills. Of course that chimes with the milder form of the message from the centre right across Europe. The fact that so much of the left and the unions has tied itself to Draghi and Brussels has not just damaged themselves, but helped undermine future responses to fascist violence. The more radical left is weak and unlikely to get over the 4% barrier to achieve a presence in parliament.

As I have previously argued, the hope lies in a resurgence of the anti-fascist tradition of Italy’s wartime resistance.

In today’s Europe two parties rooted in the Nazi tradition are about to enter government, in Italy and Sweden. Spain sees elections next year, and the Francoist Vox, closely allied to Meloni and the Fratelli, will hope to enter a new right-wing coalition. Yet the European elite’s concern is that they stick with their neoliberal programme, and not with their racism and sexism. Their ancestors in the 1920s and 1930s shared similar priorities. We cannot rely on the ruling class to stop fascism. We must rely on ourselves.

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Chris Bambery

Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.

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