By Gaither Stewart
Charming scum: with Berlusconi the Italian Right rides high.
(Rome) I feel sick.
She says I’m sick in the head.
Actually I’m sick in the heart, sick in my viscera. My head reels, I feel chronic vertigo.
She says it’s only paranoia.
I tell her the old Polish joke popular during the military regime. He constantly felt spied on, tailed everywhere, his phone tapped, his mail read. His friends said he was nuts. His wife sent him to an analyst. As it turned out, his friends, his wife, his analyst were right: it was only the secret police.
My problem is over-sensitivity, hyper-susceptibily, recurrent political allergies and chicken-hearted alienation. For decades now my general anxiety has been hatching. Sometimes I feel it swelling my nostrils, as when I breathe the pollen-laden Rome spring air. From my viscera it creeps into my spleen and leapfrogs across to my liver. It crawls up through tubes to my lungs, ever higher through my esophagus, lingers in the back of my throat and finally settles into my brain, first destroying my amygdala before obliterating the whole campus of my hippocampus.
Who? Who is it?
You know who! It’s them! Who else but the fascists, I whisper, and sing softly a few lines of Red Flag to whip up my courage.
Shhh. Not so loud, they’ll hear you. I mean, the sovereign people did elect them! They’re already everywhere like locusts in grain fields. You hear that ting ting ting tinkling? It’s their Celtic crosses, tinkling and tingling and clinking, clinking and tingling and tinkling and, and ….
Silly, she says. You’re just having another attack. It will pass.
Listen to them, the Celtic crosses, tinkling and tingling? No telling what side effects these fits have on my psyche. There’s no remedy, I lament, humming a few bars of the International. Too late for contraception, tardy for vaccinations or firewalls. We must be already infected. Paranoia, indeed!
Yesterday we watched on the telly the new fascist Mayor of Rome ascend the Campidoglio, gaze out over the people and the city’s imperial past and the remaining signs of the Ventennio, the twenty years of Mussolinian Fascism, and the new political paysage decreed by idle electors who should have stayed their sandy beach instead. Stunned, we watched him finger his Celtic cross and pronounce the prononcement that he was Mayor of all the Romans. Our Mayor too! And down below they salute, their arms stiff in the old Roman way, the old fascist salute.
The events this spring in Rome, in Italy, have already resonated over the western world. A déja vu from those twenty fateful years of the dictator Benito Mussolini that got Italy into the jam it’s in today. The restoration of the Fascists is no minor accident along the way. It crowned the victory of the Right in its New Millennium Italian campaign. And what a Right! A Fascist Right led by Silvio Berlusconi (who so recalls Mussolini) who was heard to utter these words about his victory: “We’re the falange.”
As I write these lines, Berlusconi’s falange is occupying every nook and cranny it can get its hands on in the country people of the world so love. First Berlusca swept the elections to become the new Leader. Then, on the heels of his Blitzkrieg, the Fascist heirs of the old Fascist Party—who now call themselves post-Fascists, collected the magnificent capital city of Rome and ancient capital of Europe. Fifty-year old Mayor Gianni Alemanno calls his Celtic cross a symbol, a symbol he removed from the body of a fallen Fascist companion and that he never takes off! A street warrior he was during gli anni di piombo, the so-called “years of lead” because of the bullets zipping through the air as Left and Right battled on the streets of Italy in the 1970s and 80s.
Alemanno: Rome’s fascitoid mayor for the new age. The gnomes at the CIA must be breaking out the champagne.
Gianni Alemanno, the former youth leader of the neo-Fascist Italian Social Movement, the heir of Mussolini’s Fascist state, is the first proto- or ex- or neo- or (as Fascists prefer) post-Fascist Mayor of Rome. Installed on the Campidoglio on the last day of April, Alemanno [whose last name coincidentally means “German”] announced matter-of-factly that his first two measures would be to remove the 20,000 Roma gypsies encamped in the city and many along the Tiber River. Roma go home! As if gypsies had a home. Then, he will demolish American architect Richard Meier’s brand-new monumental museum that houses the shrine of Ara Pacis—the Emperor Augustus’ Altar of Peace dating back to January 30, 9 b.c. —which the Right disliked from the start while the former Left Mayor was building it, even though it has become a top tourist attraction in the city center. And then … and then, he set about naming a string of Fascist cronies into his city administration.
Italy has not just shifted rightwards, out front of the rest as often in its past, a test tube for West Europe. In fear of the artificially created fears of immigrants and terrorists it has literally hurtled to the right. First, swarms of Italians shooed in Berlusconi and his Fascists and his alliance of the autonomist-federalist-separatist Northern League and another autonomist party in the south. Then, Romans came out for Mayor Alemanno and his band of proto- neo- ex- post-Fascists.
This new Italy of the Right—already called the Third Republic—intends negating not just the outgoing Center Left government and its actions. Berlusconi has already made his voice heard in East and West and especially at the European Union in Brussels: he personally will arrange for gas for Italy from the Russia of his friend Putin, he will nationalize the Alitalia Airlines against all rules to the contrary, he will, he will, he will … do what he likes.
Rome is not only the capital city, modernized by 15 years of leftwing mayors. Traditionally it is also a stronghoold of the Left, the pride of the Left, with its efficient mayors speaking a modern cultural language, open to experiments and development, pointed toward the future. Italy’s capital in the hands of the National Alliance (Aleanza Nazionale), Fascism’s direct heir, is an anomaly, as is the country’s new political geography: the North with its capital of Milan belongs to the autonomist Northern League, the South including Calabria and Sicily to the Southern Automist Movement, Rome to the Fascists, and Italy to Berlusconi.
The transformation of Italy’s map couldn’t be more radical. This event is not a normal alternation in power between two similar parties. This is an electoral earthquake. Even Alemanno was the last to expect his victory in Rome. It was taken for granted the Left would win again. The post-Fascist victory changes the face also of Italian politics. The Center Left—the reformist Democratic Party headed by Rome’s ex-Mayor and ex-Communist Walter Ventroni which dared run alone—lost its bet. In the elections, it lost also the “radical Left”—the Communists, Socialists and other small Left-leaning parties with which it refused to run.
The irredeemably contemptible Sarkozy. Even the French fall for the new pestilence.
The triste reality is that the resurgence of the rightwing vote would have anyway swept away any combination of the Left. The outcome testifies to a majority of a real Right in the nation. Italy’s municipal and national elections were anyway not about programs which were similar. Neither Berlusconi nor the new Mayor of Rome were elected for their programs. People wanted discontinuity. A new direction, even if it smacked of the old. As nonsensical as the alternative choice of Silvio Berlusconi and Rome’s post-Fascists seems, people voted against the political caste. Rome electors of both Right and Left leapt onto Berlusconi’s bandwagon.
The Right vote in Rome and Italy bears an indelible “anti-establishment” stamp, the same as in most of Europe during the last two years. It is both a nationalistic and sometimes and anti-European Union voice, xenophobic, anti-immigration and anti-globalization, the voice of the populist spirit sweeping across the Continent…but on a misguided track. For many, the Center Left, the Left in general, is perceived as an extraneous, foreign body. At the same time, populist Berlusconism in Italy and the anti-Europeanism in Sarkozy’s France and in Tory Great Britain, avoid old rules and commitments. The European Right is instead marked by a Janus-like duality: it is both establishment and outsider, rebelliousness and professionalism, anti-politics and political caste, ideological and anti-ideological. And at its core, of course, a fraud, a gigantic fraud, as always, grounded in manufactured confusion.
But the deception works.
Here’s a look at this new “post-Fascist” Italy: on a national level, Gianfranco Fini, President of the neo-Fascist National Alliance, has become the new President of the Chamber of Deputies, the third in rank in the Italian state. Fascists will occupy two of 12 major ministries, backed up by a horde of Fascist Deputy Ministers and Under Secretaries. In Rome, as in other cities, provinces and regions throughout the country, ex-Fascists are stepping into positions of power.
And it has an ideology, and how!—the Christian roots of Europe, condemnation of relativism, moral or otherwise, low tolerance level for others, protection and security for citizens, all the components of modern populism. Old social blocks have collapsed, the class role weakened, interest groups intertwined.
Meanwhile, as the bourgeois Right marches in triumph over the Continent, the Left staggers, teeters and totters in disarray, suffering from its minority syndrome, an electoral inferiority complex. Unity on the Left remains a chimera. In Italy one says there is much too little Social Democracy and too little Left in the Center Left, which avoids the word “Left”, and too little political initiative in the radical Left which detests the word “Center.” Incompatible or not, the two have thus far proven to be a losing combination. The alliance was ineffective in the outgoing government, a loser in the eyes of the electorate and especially in the eyes of the Left components themselves, today political orphans, for the first time without representation in the new Parliament. Yet neither the Center Left nor the Left can hope to govern the nation alone. Too many of the Left, it seems, accept the role of permanent opposition.
Nonetheless, though no longer in Parliament, Italy’s radical Left, as most of the European Left—and unlike the US Left—has its political parties, its national press, a network of societies and circles and social forums for grasroots activities and the training of new political leaders. It thus nurtures hopes of a return to Parliament in the next elections which in turn makes future participation in politcal power theoretically possible.
Winds of the Right Blowing Across Europe
Actually it didn’t happen from one day to the next. In retrospect however it seems to have come about suddenly while Italy was busy watching the experiment with its first real Center Left government, a coalition of the Center and the Radical Left including Communists. For 20 months or so the experiment limped along, stumbled, and then collapsed over a bagatelle. New elections brought Italy back to the main body of Europe in which the Right is either a majority or at the helm of state of the four biggest countries with a combined population of nearly 300 million—besides Italy, Germany, France and Great Britain, the latter still formally governed by a Labour Party sharply leaning rightwards and today in a minority in the Tory-dominated nation.
Gordon Brown’s new Man of Labour—inheriting a tradition of crafty betrayal of authentic leftist ideas, and harvesting the inevitable crop.
Despite its broad national roots the British Labour Party lost heavily in local elections this past weekend, including the loss of the mayorship of London to the Conservative candidate, in substance resembling the simultaneous rout of the Left in Italy—the painful price the UK Left must now pay for the disastrous alliance of Tony Blair with Bushian America. In Germany, the Christian Democrats govern in a coalition with the Social Democratic Party that–surprise!– chose an alliance with the Right rather than with the Left of Socialists and Communists of the Linke, the same choice the Center Left Democratic Party of Italy has made. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy last year rode roughshod over the Center Left Socialists and at the same time crushed both the extreme Right of the National Front and the French Communist Party on the Left, certified by the bourgeoisie for his crushing of the impertinent uprisings in the Paris banlieues when he called the sons of immigrants the “scum of the nation.”
In 2007 elections in Greece, the Center Right New Democracy Party won in close elections, while The Netherlands and Belgium are both governed by a coalition of center-oriented Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. In Portugal in 2006 the Center Right Social Democratic Party won presidential elections over the Center Left Socialist Party. Also in 2006, Sweden, which had been dominated by the Social Democratic Party since 1932—accounting for Sweden’s broad social system—fell to the Center Right Alliance for Sweden. A similar right-leaning model rules in most of East Europe, today still searching for an acceptable social-political model. Emblematic of the times in the East: Ukraine is displaying its confusion by renaming its streets, Tolstoy Street becomes John Lennon, and Maxim Gorky cedes to Abraham Lincoln.
Is it any wonder then that I am sick, malato, malade, enfermo, krank? That I am a lonely paranoic staggering under the onslaught of legions of continental Chichikovs?
Only in Spain, tough Germanic Spain, standing like a proud and lonely Don Quixote, only in Spain does a Socialist Party govern, today the most progressive land in Europe. But it too is under neo-liberalist fire. Lonely but in neo-liberal eyes an intolerable Spain! A Socialist who dares to keep his word on withdrawing troops from Iraq! Lonely and criticized also by the Left for daring to lean on conservatives to push through his program! Oh God! How to do the right thing? But not to worry, the Right says. Zapatero’s new four-year term will pass quickly, after which Spain’s Fascist Right can leap back onto center stage.
Spain’s durable (?) Zapatero.
In the wake of the spread of uniformity and the gospel of order and security, one might wonder if all these Center Right governments are in cahoots? It would seem so. Is this the real face of the European Union? It seems so. Is this part of the World-Government-New-World-Order process? Looks like it.
But how did it happen that the left-wing parties which for over a century fashioned social Europe have now lost out to the neo-liberal Center Right? And what about the European Social Idea? One answer is the sad reality that human beings maybe are conservative. People want to be led, led well and honestly, but led by the hand. In general, people just want to be “happy.” As a rule the Right is adept at making illogical impossible promises of happiness and creating the sense of false consciousness of happiness. People need and want to hear those promises, as unlikely as they may be, of good times to come.
Europe is again rich. And as a result daily life is more and more “bourgeois.” For the conservative majority, red flags and the hammer and sickle mean bloodshed, uncertainty and disorder. Some members of the European Parliament recently went so far as to propose a ban on the hammer and sickle symbol. Bourgeois values have never left much space for leftist ideas.
Once creative and innovative, in 1789 the maker of revolutions, the European bourgeoisie is today–consistent with its natural social dynamics–largely Right. Especially in Italy and France. We don’t forget that the European bourgeoisie permitted Fascism and Nazism, created it in fact, in order to preserve its social rule, private property and the capitalist system threatened by the Revolution that Western Socialists were never able to pull off. To many, Fascism was merely an annoyance that saved the bourgeois system. In fact Fascism tempted the bourgeoisie in all of Europe. In that sense, the European bourgeoisie continues to believe—in its overwhelming self-serving false consciousness, as moneyed elites tend to think everywhere—that the government exists for it and for its interests. In today’s European showcase, bourgeois Liberals, who across Europe as a rule vote Right, are Power’s ally and stand in the way of genuine social progress and effective redistribution of wealth.
Though in that sense Europeans have opted for false happiness, I still don’t believe the question of Socialism-Communism has been definitively settled. On one hand, the inexplicable mystery for neo-liberals is that traditionally Social Democratic countries in Scandinavia enjoy the world’s highest standard of living, and that those mixed economies, part social, part capitalist, work. Though Communism, crushed by errors in its Soviet past, is no longer considered a viable alternative to neo-liberal democracy, its memory is alive. Marx wrote that the ghost of Communism haunted Europe. Today, in the minds of many, the memory of that ghost resists, a ghost so powerful that the Right regularly dangles its threat before the eyes of voters each time they go to the polls. The Marxian ghost haunts because its presence is rooted in deepening, unresolved class and systemic realities, which, while the propaganda of the powerful may momentarily relegate to the social periphery, never leave the stage.
Emigration On My Mind
The situation is bleak, I’m bleak, and I don’t feel better about it. Not at all. While Right Europe worries about immigration to Europe, I have emigration on my mind. But to where? Spain perhaps? But in less than four years Zapatero’s time will be up. The Fascist phalange will probably return. And then where would a prospective emigrant go? Across the strait to Morocco, maybe. Tangier has a certain appeal. Latin America too is appealing, albeit risky. It could only be Venezuela or Bolivia or Cuba. But even Cuba! First tourism, then Fidel’s retirement, now cellular phones and computers. Who knows where revisionism there will end? So I come back to Europe. For some reason I rule out Iceland. But Finland might be nice. After all, 12 of 20 government ministers are women! A world record. Still, Finnish conservatives won last year’s elections while Social Democrats, Socialists and even Communists all converge around the Center. I must confess that I’m perplexed by the stability up there in rich Finland.
Meanwhile, sick and lonely, I’m again studying the Ultima Thule idea, which has long fascinated me. It is in reserve as a final emigration destination.
Gaither Stewart is Cyrano’s Journal’s European correspondent. His melancholy and bafflement at the European drift rightward is shared by his colleagues on the stateside team.