Politics

The Distress of the Italian Left

The distress and disbelief shown by Pier Luigi Bersani during his press conference on Tuesday 26th February, a day after the vote, was extremely disconcerting. Hearing him express his consternation, one could ask oneself whether, like Leo XIII from The Vatican Cellars by André Gide, the real leader of the Democratic Party has not been abducted by a group of conspirators from the opposition and replaced by a substitute.

The reason being that it is hard to believe that Bersani, who yesterday considered himself as the country’s Prime Minister in pectore didn’t see this coming, or that he didn’t notice the three and a half million voters that have left his party since 2008. This is all despite the supposed liberal crisis, the fall of the centre-right, the Berlusconi-esque scandals, Monti’s failure, and the so-called Grillo folklore. However, if the person – giving an unsettled expression spotted by journalists yesterday and with his hands worryingly gripping the wooden stand in front of him – was well and truly Pier Luigi Bersani, that would mean, therefore, that the self-celebration of the last few weeks, the disdain towards the extravagant but oh so effective proposals from Silvio Berlusconi, and indeed the amused condescension to the millions of young people drunk on the rhetoric of the online champion, was entirely genuine and that all of these attitudes were sincere.

This disconnection from reality would then explain the absurd nature of the lessons that the former future Italian prime minister has learned from the electoral disaster. ‘We must listen to the voters’ message’, he tells us. He proceeds to add, without laughing: ‘To get the country out of the rut it is in, we must carry out tough institutional reforms, take measures in terms of public morality, defend those most affected by the crisis, pursue a policy aimed at promoting work, pay back the government’s debts to companies, abandon the VAT increase.’ How does one explain such a shift in message from the man who could have been chosen to direct the country and its population? Because, deep down, weren’t these requests not made by the two million eight hundred thousand people who took part – physically and via the Internet – in the 2008 demonstration organised by Beppe Grillo in Turin? Weren’t these already the conclusions of the programmatic citizen’s debate conducted by the Five Star Movement six months earlier?

Instead of demonising the Genoan comedian, or comparing him to Mussolini, Hitler or Goebbels, – as many heavyweights from the Democratic party did – would it not have been better to push the hatchways wide-open and to resolve Italians’ suffering with concrete actions? And rather than contribute in confiscating the public debate in order to vote on, without question – like a student worried about being reprimanded -, all of the Monti government’s rigorist measures, not adequately compensated for the weakest sections of society, wouldn’t it have been preferable to let the people speak in November 2011, through a vote like many analysts, including myself, recommended? The ECB had just purchased a hundred billion euro work of Italian government bonds to calm the markets down. Wouldn’t the markets have been able to wait two months, just enough time to hold a vote, in order to give the country a politically stable majority that, undoubtedly, would have been centre-left? As a left-wing party, why not oppose inflationist measures such as the VAT increase on energy and food products, which has drastically jeopardised Italians’ purchasing power? Why not do it when eight hundred and fifty thousand Italian families submitted a request to spread out energy bill payments?

Why not demand the reform of a prohibitively expensive political and institutional structure, whose inefficiency and dishonest business deals in some of the country’s geographical regions we are aware of? Why not call for compensatory measures for growth to stimulate the job market? Even if it means resigning whilst explaining the reasons behind such a resignation, as Silvio Berlusconi would do some months later. It is mainly for these reasons (and many more, but that isn’t the point) that the Five Star Movement received excellent scores in the regions most affected by the economic crisis, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria, Abruzzo, and that it doubled its count in Sicily and in cities where it is in power. ..And all of that without the main architect of this triumph even realising it. To listen to Mr Bersani, and through him the entire centre-left, one has a desire to paraphrase La Boétie: They lose so well and willingly that they seem not to have lost the battle but won their defeat.

This article originally appeared in French in Blog à Part.

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