Will Gramsci be vindicated by Italy's new "Caesar"?
Antonio Gramsci, one of the twentieth century's most important Marxists, focused on three characteristics of the fascism. Caesarism, one of fascism's three pillars, refers to a political intervention by a previously dormant, unknown political force capable of restoring sociopolitical equilibrium during a crisis, according to him. These criteria are met by Italy's new Prime Minister. A politician who was unknown outside of Italy a few years ago takes over the country's leadership when Italian society is under pressure from many directions. Giorgia Meloni is in many respects Italy's new "Caesar."
Gramsci also focused on the perpetual struggle, the "war of attrition" for the hearts and minds of the population in his analysis of fascism a century ago, beyond that usually associated with processes of legitimation in "normal politics." Meloni has just successfully completed the first stage of her own war of attrition with the help of far-right and conservative political allies. During the campaign, the ambitious politician promised Italians modern neoliberal economic reforms, a solution to the immigration problem, and imposing conservative social policies by the new government. These promises have found supporters in Italy's political and economic uncertainty.
Following his election victory on Sunday, it remains to be seen whether Meloni, who rose through the ranks of Italy's modern fascist movement, will gradually be able to respond to fascism's third characteristic, passive, social revolution. Will Italy's first far-right female Prime Minister be able to reshuffle the country's sociopolitical deck amid widespread economic uncertainty? Apart from Italy, the conclusive answer to this question concerns the course of events throughout Europe.
The historic elections
Early results from Sunday's snap election in Italy showed that a right-wing coalition led by the far-right Fratelli d'Italia party had won a majority of votes. According to Interior Ministry data, the alliance of Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia, Matteo Salvini's right-wing Lega, and Silvio Berlusconi's center-right Forza Italia looks set to win with around 44% of the vote in both the lower and upper houses of parliament. In comparison, the Democratic Party-led center-left coalition won 26.2%.
The far-right Fratelli d'Italia (or Brothers of Italy) won 26.2% of the vote, far ahead of coalition partners Lega and Forza Italia, which each received around 8% of the vote. However, voter turnout was low at 64%, compared to 74% in 2018. The Fratelli d'Italia was a small, reactionary party with few political prospects a few years ago. However, the party's ratings have risen because of recent economic problems, as well as the effects of political instability within Italy and developments on the international stage.
Giorgia Meloni, the winner of Fratelli d'Italia, is expected to become Italy's next prime minister and the country's first female leader. The vote also ushers in Rome's most right-wing government since World War II, as well as fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Giorgia Meloni, speaking as the results were announced, said the party would "govern for everyone" and would not "betray" the country's trust. She also emphasized the importance of uniting Italy and making its people proud.
Meloni's success, which shocked Europe, came after Italy's previous neoliberal government collapsed. In the previous period, Prime Minister Mario Draghi was able to form a national unity government in Italy, signaling a return to neoliberal reform with EU funding to address the ongoing Covid-19 emergency. Draghi's first remarks as Prime Minister left no doubt about his determination to return to the path of neoliberal reform. He chose Francesco Giavazzi as his economic advisor, who had been among those tasked by the previous government with identifying areas of public spending that could be cut. Draghi's government viewed EU aid as a form of business help. Draghi made the usual neoliberal references to "active employment policies", which would involve "stepping up training for workers and the unemployed" for households pushed into poverty by the unprecedented drop in output. In the end, this governmental stance not only failed to provide solutions to Italy's problems but also paved the way for extreme right-wing rule.
"Meloni won't surprise us"
According to Bill Emmott, the Italian right's decisive election victory puts its leader in line to become the country's first female prime minister and the first with a clear post-Fascist ancestry. Emmott sees little reason to believe that Meloni's government will alter Italy's neoliberal course. To Gramsci's "disappointment," the "passive revolution" of Italian neofascism will have to wait, at least for now.
According to the analyst, Meloni's victory reflects the instability of the previous decade. After being led primarily by leaders from the center and left since 2011, it was arguably time for Italy to shift back to the right. And one of Meloni's major draws is that she is young (only 45 years old) and unaffected by any recent government decisions, popular or not. Disillusionment with the old political guard contributed significantly to voter apathy, which reduced turnout to 64%.
Emmott emphasizes Meloni leads a party that is proud of its postwar supporters of Mussolini, the Fascist dictator. The Brothers even keep a flame as their party symbol, symbolizing their devotion to the late Duce. Some members wear black shirts and even use the Roman salute most commonly associated with German Nazis, although it was popularized by Mussolini. For the time being, these neo-fascist organizations are irrelevant because there is no evidence of a surge in support for violent methods or subverting democracy. Meloni's signature issues, which include a Trump-style "Italy First" attitude toward illegal immigration and opposition to progressive social policies affecting LGBTQ communities or abortion, are essentially consistent with the programs of previous Berlusconi-led right-wing governments in 2001-06 and 2008-11, as well as Lega in a left-right coalition in 2018-19. Her opposition to foreign ownership of flagship national companies like the former Alitalia is also standard.
Based on the above, Emmot stresses that: "There is little that is genuinely new or surprising in the program promised by Meloni. She has taken a resolutely anti-Russia and pro-Ukraine stance over the war, just like the outgoing Draghi. (In the sphere of economy) As a self-declared “sovereigntist,” Meloni is no fan of stringent conditions from Brussels. Nor, with the whole right-wing coalition backed by an array of vested interests among small and medium-size businesses, will she be a fan of pro-competition reforms or even rigorous auditing. But the large flows of cash involved will be crucial for Italy’s medium-term economic growth, implying that her sovereigntist instincts are set for a contest with pragmatic realism."
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.