Category Archives: Italian politics

What can Italians expect from the new populist government?

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Italy’s prospective PM, Giuseppe Conte, is a 54-year-old university professor with little political experience [Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]

I was interviewed by South African public radio SAfm this morning on the prospects of Italy’s new populist government.

You can listen to the audio clip here.

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Italy’s populist alliance and the national anti-migrant consensus

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The League’s Matteo Salvini and the Five Star’s Luigi Di Maio have entered into coalition to form a government in Italy [AP]

You can read my latest piece for Al Jazeera English on the newly formed populist alliance between the far right League and post-ideological Five Star Movement.

Here is an extract:

‘On the surface, the Five Star Movement and the League don’t have much in common. One was founded by an Italian comedian who talked of direct democracy, anti-corruption policies and a green economy. The other has its roots in a secessionist movement, calling for the wealthier north to separate from the “underdeveloped” south, and is currently pursuing an anti-migrant agenda.

In reality, the two parties have never been that different, and their recent convergence is not accidental. Both focused their election campaigns on the grievances of the “white Italian majority” which is afraid of being sidelined by liberal elites and migrants and losing their middle-class privileges.’

United against Trump

Donald Trump

The poor showing at Trump’s inauguration, and the massive turnout at the Women’s Marches, together with Trump’s popular vote defeat by nearly 3 million votes, prove that chasing Trump supporters is not only ethically problematic, but also strategically wrong. Trump did not win. He got into power thanks to the increasing fragmentation and disunity of its opposition, caused in no minor part by decades of neoliberalism and its co-option of large sections of the left.

The way to fight Trump and the rise of Euro-American fascism is unity, that much is clear.  We need a vision that rejects the unbridled rule of corporations and imperialist states over people’s lives, and the systemic racism and sexism that underpins the current world order. We should strive for models that preserve the planet from the threat of climate change, and stop the pillaging of natural resources and destruction of local livelihoods carried out to fuel an unsustainable and unequal global economy.

We should build on the contribution of queer, feminist and Black activists that showed us that this movement can only be intersectional, taking into account how all forms of oppression and discrimination interact with each other in complex and non-obvious ways. Class is not a primary reality of capital that precedes all other identities, rather it intersects with them in a non-hierarchical fashion. But disagreement with those who continue to believe in the “primacy of class” should not lead to disunity in struggle. We can work together and map a common ground. 

We are led by those who have borne the worst effects of centuries of exploitation and discrimination, well before aggressive neoliberalism eroded the livelihoods of the Western middle classes: people of colour, queer and non-binary people, women, migrants, refugees, indigenous people, people with disabilities, low-income and precarious workers, the unemployed and the underemployed, and other oppressed groups, in no hierarchical order.

We should engage in tough and frank dialogue with leaders like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. They have in different ways softened their stances against nationalist and racist arguments for economic protectionism, in the hope that a compromise would be possible to steer some of the voters who support Trump and the far right towards a progressive alternative. Sanders and Corbyn are mistaken, but we want them to understand this, reverse their positions, and contribute to the emerging anti-Trump movement.

There are a few things we don’t need to do: we don’t need to empathise with Trump supporters and far right voters in Europe; we don’t need to reach to them; we don’t need to give more airtime to their views. It’s up to us. We can claim the democratic right to express our firm rejection of xenophobic and racist nationalism, or let people like Trump and Farage call the shots. We don’t need their voters to win in the ballot box, but they will be welcome if and when they realise they were wrong.

In the world we want to live in, there is space for everybody, including those who voted for Trump. Like everybody else, they will benefit from the progressive policies and collective actions we will deploy in the fight against Trump and his allies.

Attenzione, un governo a 5 Stelle non è l’alternativa alla sinistra

Pubblicato sul settimanale Left in edicola dal 5 Dicembre.

Fa un certo effetto ascoltare Paolo Flores D’Arcais in un lungo intervento sui tre valori della Rivoluzione francese – libertà, uguaglianza, fratellanza – che si conclude con un endorsement verso il M5s. Il partito fondato da Beppe Grillo viene indicato come l’unica forza in Italia su cui scommettere per lottare contro il regime dei grandi capitali e della tecnocrazia. Il direttore di MicroMega ha trovato il consenso del costituzionalista Stefano Rodotà, relatore, insieme a lui e al deputato M5s Alessandro Di Battista, in un recente evento organizzato dalla stessa rivista.

Quanto gli argomenti dei 5 Stelle hanno di democratico e solidale? Qual è la visione oltre la crisi dell’euro? Le posizioni di Grillo sulla crisi economica e la questione dei rifugiati fanno emergere più di un dubbio. Non è solo una faccenda di ammiccamenti a una grossa fetta del suo elettorato che ha fondamentalmente valori di destra. C’è qualcosa di più profondo e accuratamente orchestrato nella propaganda anti-rifugiati degli ultimi mesi.

La narrazione del leader utilizza argomenti tradizionalmente di “sinistra” con un’analisi ispirata dall’economia politica anti-capitalista, mostrando i pericoli dello sfruttamento, dello strapotere della Germania nell’euro, e dell’impoverimento dei Paesi del Sud Europa. Ma li intreccia verso una percezione in cui i “poveri italiani” sono le principali vittime, mentre rifugiati e migranti, descritti con falsa compassione, diventano un intralcio. La propaganda contribuisce a formare una generale consapevolezza che individua, appunto, i “nostri” problemi quali prioritari, paragonabili, addirittura, alla devastazione delle guerre e della povertà di posti come la Siria o il Sudan.

Seguendo, purtroppo, intellettuali di “sinistra” ormai votati ad argomenti anti-rifugiati mascherati – vedi Slavoj Zizek e Diego Fusaro – Grillo gioca col fuoco. Egli fa alleanze con partiti xenofobi e razzisti come lo Ukip di Farage, dice che uno come Orban, fautore del filo spinato che evoca i campi di concentramento nazisti, sia stato mal compreso, per poi fingere di prendere le distanze da Le Pen e Salvini. Questa differenza, però, è ormai soltanto nella forma, non certo nella sostanza delle proposte.

Fosse soltanto un fenomeno nostrano, ci sarebbe forse meno da preoccuparsi. Ci troviamo invece in un momento storico cruciale per tutta l’Europa che ricorda molto le divisioni e la frustrazione di popolazioni impoverite e umiliate che appoggiarono il fascismo e il nazismo come risposta ai loro problemi economici e sociali. Allora come oggi, notiamo un’allarmante serie di scambi tra le ali più radicali della sinistra e della destra. C’è, infatti, un disegno più allargato di alcune componenti della sinistra che vedono un’alleanza con il “diavolo delle destre nazionaliste” come unica alternativa all’impero, ormai molto fragile, delle tecnocrazie europee.

Un eventuale governo a guida 5 Stelle rischia – è accaduto con Orban in Ungheria – di diventare ostaggio della deriva delle folle, che vedono la lotta al privilegio come parte di una rivolta generale per ristabilire, non si sa bene come, l’orgoglio del popolo-nazione. Il M5s sta abilmente manipolando queste pulsioni per porsi come una alternativa anti-regime “credibile” a una sinistra in crisi e a una destra “impresentabile”.

Rodotà e D’Arcais, che scellerati non sono, ci hanno probabilmente già pensato. E, come molti avanguardisti, sperano forse domani di essere loro gli anticorpi del regime delle folle, che tende a nutrirsi di odio, piuttosto che di democrazia. In questa crisi globale occorre sottolineare i valori della solidarietà e dell’uguaglianza della nostra Costituzione. Grillo e i 5 Stelle, invece, remano nella direzione opposta.

Vito Laterza è ricercatore in antropologia sociale all’Università di Città del Capo, Sudafrica.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia introduces a minimum income experiment

I am now a contributing editor of Basic Income News, the media platform of the Basic Income Earth Network. My latest piece reports on the introduction of a minimum income experiment in the  Italian region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Friuli leads a resurgence of similar measures in other regions across the country.

It is still far from a guaranteed minimum income, and certainly set at low monetary values – more like a measure to counter extreme poverty than anything. Despite this, it is an important step forward in a country that has no national guaranteed minimum income or universal unemployment subsidy.

Three proposals for a national guaranteed minimum income have been deposited in the national parliament, but none of them have reached the crucial stage of a parliamentary vote.

The human economy hits Italian shores

The human economy approach hits Italian shores in the last number of historic liberal left-wing journal Critica Liberale, just appeared in print.

In a brilliant piece titled “La globalizzazione dell’apartheid [The globalization of apartheid]”, Keith Hart, LSE Centennial Professor and co-director of the Human Economy Programme in Pretoria, engages Europe and European liberalism from a global south perspective, more specifically South Africa and its regional economy. He builds on some of the arguments in a piece recently appeared in Anthropology Today, and an older article of some years ago from his Memory Bank website.

In my article “Tra stato, mercato e societa’: la crisi italiana e l’economia umana [Between state, market and society: the Italian crisis and the human economy]”, I try to explore some of the possibilities of developing a human economy approach to understand the Italian crisis, with a strong focus on informality and society to counter more common top-down state-market analyses.

Claudia Lopedote, sitting in the editorial board of the journal, provides the essential linkages between the human economy experience and Italian debates in her piece “Economia umana [Human economy]”.

Italians should stop tolerating racism

When it comes to racial integration and racism, the situation in Italy is truly appalling. It is disheartening to hear about the racist insults and even death threats received on a daily basis by Cécile Kyenge, the first black minister in an Italian government.

The problem is not only the racist slur of a bunch of idiots. Italians let these characters talk and express themselves in public without strong sanction and immediate marginalisation. People like the Italian senator Calderoli who proffered racial insults against minister Kyenge in other countries would never be invited for dinner or even coffee. In Italy they rise to the highest ranks: Calderoli was a cabinet member in Berlusconi’s governments, and is currently the vice-president of the Senate.

He has not resigned yet, and has no intentions to do so. Meanwhile the other politicians, the “good” ones, especially the centre-left, shout their indignation, but don’t seem for now to be doing much more than that.

John Foot from the Guardian says that “Italy is not a racist country, but it is a country where racism is tolerated and where a person like Calderoli has held institutional power.” This description is perhaps too charitable. The longer Italians persist in tolerating racism, the more racist they become.