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Prodi's Soap Operatic Fall

Neoliberalism and War in Italy

by TARIQ ALI

The states of Western Europe continue to resist harmonisation. On the same day that the chicaneries of every antiquated careerist vying for the New Labour deputy leadership were made public, each justifying his/her grotesque decision to support the war and occupation Iraq, the centre-Left Italian government—not yet a year old— fell after a debate on foreign policy in the Upper Chamber.

It was not Iraq that was at issue here. Unlike New Labour (protected by undemocratic electoral laws), the whole of the Italian Left and 80 percent of the population opposed that war. The dispute this week concerned two issues: Operation Enduring Freedom—the satirical self-description of the NATO/UN occupation of Afghanistan— and the expansion of the US military base in Vicenza in Northern Italy.

Two leftwing Senators voted against the government in the Italian Senate after Prodi and his Foreign Minister D’Alema had made the vote an issue of confidence, arguing that Afghanistan was a legal war because it was supported by the United Nations. He meant, of course, the Security Council with its iron-fisted monopoly of power still firmly under the control of five countries who were victorious in the Second world war. His arguments failed to sway two dissenting Senators from the left.

As a result, a weakened Romano Prodi, the prudent spokesman of an immoderate bourgeoisie, has resigned. His popularity was on the wane (36 percent as against 44 percent who backed the coalition) as was that of his neo-liberal Finance Minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schippo (30 percent) whose attempts at casualisation and short-term contracts for workers have also divided the government, many of whose supporters and a few Ministers participated in the mass protests of last November in defence of universal, publicly-financed social services and against any restriction of social rights.

Could it be that they wanted to be defeated so as to re-jig the coalition by attracting a moderate Centre-Right party to join their ranks and dumping the Refounded Communists? It’s a risky operation, especially as the RC leader, Fausto Bertinotti (drunk with happiness at becoming a dignitary of the State) has kept their principles under heavy wraps, but the next few weeks will tell.

Only a week earlier, Prodi had explicitly forbidden any member of the Cabinet from participation in the mass demonstration (100,000 according to La Repubblica) protesting the extension of the base. Now the crisis within the Left is out in the open. 62 percent of Italians and 73 percent of the government’s supporters want to withdraw all Italian troops from Afghanistan. Like centre politicians elsewhere Berlusconi, Prodi and D’Alema are united in ignoring public opinion.

Were it not for factional divisions on other issues (especially patronage and corrupt commissions) the Opposition would have voted with Prodi. But Italian politics remains volatile and unpredictable while grandees of the centre-Left and their equivalents on the Right exude the stench of putrefaction, the muck of their fatherland. The EU is too weak a political entity to provide any serious assistance and Latin America where new alternatives are being discussed and implemented is geo-politically remote.

TARIQ ALI’s new book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, is published by Verso. He can be reached at: tariq.ali3@btinternet.com