For most Italians, the Democratic Party has represented for years a shelter to the advocates of welfare and civil rights, especially with respect to universal healthcare and free education, two pillars of Italian culture and economy. Despite many attempts to associate its history with the violence of the Years of Lead, and a recently troubled fusion with a leftist stream of Liberal Catholicism, it still represents for many Italians a tradition of political struggles that embodied a convincing alternative to fascism, on the one hand, and capitalistic neo-liberalism, on the other hand.
These times are over. The Democratic Party is breaking apart and a century-long history is about to come to an end. The person responsible for squandering this political heritage is Matteo Renzi, the current leader of the party. First and foremost for his ambition — legitimate, from a personal point of view; deadly, if it comes, as it came, at the price of splitting the party — to remain leader despite the tremendous political defeat suffered on the occasion of the Constitutional referendum.
In November 2016, Italians rejected Matteo Renzi’s constitutional amendment to abolish the Senate, with 60% of voters against his reform. Renzi had committed to quitting political life altogether had he lost the referendum — that which has remained an empty promise. He resigned as prime minister, but he remained leader of the party. And when the time from primary elections came, it was obvious to everyone that Matteo Renzi could win the battle for the primary (inside the party) only at the price of losing the war of the political elections (delivering Italy into the hands of the right-wing.)
Crippled by a tremendous defeat at the referendum, Matteo Renzi won the primary elections, but he is now running towards the political elections with one leg. At Renzi’s refusal to step down, the party broke apart, and a new leftist party (Liberi e Uguali) was born from the schism. The last polls indicate that the Democratic Party’s 23% of preferences will be a success — not a great result for a political force that has government and majority in the parliament as we write.
The political schism was not in itself the disease, but a symptom of a disease; a so-far latent condition of unhealthy attempts to follow populists and right-wing on dangerous paths. Three at least: 1) adopting a marketing kind of communicative style; 2) promoting neo-liberalistic recipes with the endorsement of Confindustria and the financial elites; 3) falling into political scandals that touched not only his closest entourage (Minister Maria Elena Boschi, main editor of Renzi’s failed constitutional reform) but also his own family (Renzi’s father is currently under investigation.)
You don’t need to be a nostalgic bolshevik to notice that Renzi’s political style and agenda are too similar to everything Italians have seen during the years of Berlusconi: political propaganda, neoliberalism, corruption, conflict of interest. As they say, who wants a copy when you can have the original? But Renzi is not only losing voters to Berlusconi’s new right-wing coalition. He is also losing votes to the Five Star Movement whose economic proposal, while possibly unattainable, is appealing to liberals and left-wing voters, as stressing the importance on environmental issues and welfare.
Furthermore, since the fall of Berlusconi in 2011, Italy had four governments that were lawfully supported by the Parliament, but not supported by the same majority that Italians voted at the elections. New majorities were alchemically formed inside the Parliament to produce monstrous governments, four in six years: that of Mario Monti, Enrico Letta (following Bersani’s failed attempt to form a legitimate government,) Matteo Renzi and, finally, Paolo Gentiloni (after Matteo Renzi lost the referendum of November 2016.)
This chain of flash artificial governments has displeased Italian voters and all those who on numerous occasions have sought elections to elect a government more representative of the public sentiment. Since the Democratic Party led by Matteo Renzi has been heavily involved in all these opinable passages, the Democratic Party will be paying a heavy toll for its anti-democratic choices.
On March 4, Italian liberals will have to deal with the rubbles left of the Democratic Party. Matteo Renzi has no chance to win, and the paths before him are both leading to political death. If he lends his votes to the right-wing to form a new Grosse Koalition government, on the next round of elections there will be nothing left of the Democratic Party. Whereas, if Renzi opts for remaining a minor minority in the parliament, the Democratic Party will remain minority not for the next five years, but for the next twenty, another ventennio. We have seen these things already.
Unless. Unless Matteo Renzi steps down, resigns, retires to private life and give the Democratic Party the chance to become what it was, a party where liberals and democratic souls of all backgrounds can find a reference point for a fast-changing world, and an alternative to the rising tide of neo-fascism, xenophobic sentiment, racism and brutal financial capitalism that the Italian right-wing monstrously represents; that which finds too many followers within a society wore out by years of economic crisis, and environmental, cultural, social decline.