Fausto Bertinotti: “We are at the beginning of a new phase”

The former leader of the Communist Refoundation Party (1994–2006) and former President of the Chamber of Deputies (2006–2008) analyses the evolution of anti-fascism and the Left, and what he sees as the deliberate strategy of Meloni´s government to destroy anti-fascist roots and weaken the Constitution in Italy.

Roberto Morea : Thank you, Fausto, for agreeing to chat with us. I would like to discuss anti-fascism with you. On 25 April, we had the anniversary of Italy’s Liberation from Nazi-Fascism, which brought several controversies stirred up by comments made first by President of the Senate Ignazio La Russa (from the Fratelli d’Italia party led by Giorgia Meloni) then by several government members. These repeated statements prompt us to reflect anew on the phase we are living through at the moment. Do you think that this phase — in Italy and in Europe — has anything to tell us in terms of a new fascism, a new idea of the reactionary Right, even if it takes different forms in various countries?

Fausto Bertinotti: Thank you for the invitation, you are welcome anytime. I would like to start with two preliminary observations. The first is that in Italy the Republic has never been able to fully settle accounts with fascism. By that, I mean that, under various conditions and in different cycles of Italian history, the antithesis between fascism and anti-fascism could emerge again, albeit in ever-changing ways.

Anti-fascist culture has been through many ups and downs. It has, at times, enjoyed an absolutely overwhelming hegemony, also because of its rebirths — as in the early 1960s, and as in the long cycle opened up by 1968 and 1969, that is, in moments when it resisted attempts to erase or manipulate it — when it resisted attempts to reduce anti-fascism to nothing more than an ancient, historical memory. But what we are seeing today is another turning point.

For brevity’s sake, I will not mention all the episodes that came before. But, just to convey the idea that anti-fascist hegemony has never been won forever, I would like to mention the 1960 anti-fascist revolt against the choice by Fernando Tambroni’s Christian-Democratic government to allow the congress of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (the party of the veterans of the Nazi-collaborationist Salò Republic) to take place in Genoa, a city awarded a gold medal of the Resistance. That decision led to a revolt that prompted a new generation to take to the streets to demonstrate under the banner of the new resistance. A famous slogan of the protest was “Ora e sempre resistenza” (“Now and always resistance”) as is written on the plaque on Galimberti Piazza in Cuneo, a city square named after Duccio Galimberti, the most important figure of the Resistance in Piedmont. Yet, those events from 1960 happened after a period when anti-fascism had been put aside. One important song for the history of my generation was the one Fausto Amodei wrote as a tribute for the people who died in Reggio Emilia (five Communist workers who were killed during an anti-fascist protest under the 1960 Tambroni government). It sings of those who had already forgotten about Duccio Galimberti. So, we start from those who had forgotten about Galimberti and we arrive at the uprising that prevented the congress of the Movimento Sociale Italiano from taking place.

Their strategy is to demolish anti-fascism as the only civil religion in this country — which, because it is deeply rooted, can always be reborn anew.

I tell you this to point to how the fascist/anti-fascist competition started again over and over. And this now happening again, yet this time on totally unprecedented territory. Why unprecedented? I will not discuss the global picture at global scale, which we should certainly also pay attention to, but focus on the domestic one.

There are two facts that tell us we are at the end of a long cycle opened up in postwar Italy and at the beginning of a new one. The first is the existence of this right-wing government: it is not some more or less camouflaged Right, a little bit right-wing, a little bit populist, a little bit liberal — no. This government is fully and entirely right-wing. The second fact is, for the first time since the war, the absence of a class-based political Left, which is to say an anti-capitalist Left, one that comes from the workers’ movement.

These two facts are characteristic of the new phase. The government is right-wing for many reasons, but we can cite at least three. The first, because it carries forward a structurally neoliberal economic policy; the second because of the return of its corporatist elements, in defence of its own clients, and the third, in my opinion fundamental for the right-wing government, is the great ideological offensive it is waging. For this Right, it’s not enough to have the ideology that has been dominant up till now— that of the market that says, “you will have no God but me”, summed up by the “TINA” motto, “there is no alternative”. This is not enough: building on this capitalist domination, it wants to carry out a cultural operation that establishes an element of its own conservative-reactionary approach as a permanent one.

What is this element? The Right today in government wants to remove the political culture that can oppose its attempt, a culture which draws on one of this country’s great histories — which is to say, anti-fascism. So, what is so to be feared about anti-fascism? Yes, the memory, of course. But also, much more than the memory, the system of values, the one which is transmitted by the Constitution, but whose future survival is not guaranteed. In fact, quite like anti-fascism, the Constitution in Italy is not set once and for all, but is itself the stake of the battle. There are countries, like Italy, in which, once the constitution is written, the problem arises of how it can be implemented. Yet in any case it represents by itself a democratic achievement — one that has to be kept alive on the terrain of the fight against inequality, on the terrain of the dignity of labour, on that of the rights of the person, of the diversity of the human persona, on the theme of the welcoming (of migrants), on the theme of solidarity, for public schools, for peace.

In all these areas, the achievement represented by the Constitution appears as a burden to the Right. And the Right has decided to get rid of this burden. I should be clear, and emphasise that this is not the return of fascism. This Right does not think about doing the impossible. But it thinks about what is unfortunately possible, namely the defeat of anti-fascism, the erasure of anti-fascism from the present, concrete history of the country. It uses all means to this end. One is government policies. In my opinion, it seeks a specific position on this issue, which is what we have repeatedly called afascismo — “neither fascism nor anti-fascism”. This is the water in which it swims to prevent having to answer the question: “but are you anti-fascists?” “You, Prime Minister, you, government, are you anti-fascist in accordance with the implicit requirements in the republican Constitution?

To avoid answering the question if it is itself anti-fascist, the Italian government invented the “afascismo”.

To avoid answering to this question they have constructed a space which we can call afascismo. To protect the government from the question that is impossible for them to handle — “declare yourself anti-fascist” — they mount this operation to make an underhand attack on anti-fascism. So, even the Prime Minister, not some random party militant, can deny the anti-fascist character of the martyrs of the Nazi-fascist massacre of partisans, political prisoners and Jews at the Fosse Ardeatine, calling them “Italians”. With a blatant hypocrisy — because, of course, as she says the victims were Italians. But there is also the little problem that the accomplices of the men who killed them were also Italians. The Prime Minister gave her followers the go-ahead, and so they followed. So, we have the president of the Senate — regardless of the fact that he is holds the second highest office of the State, who could be called upon to replace the president of the Republic! — says the obscene things he said about Via Rasella, that is, attacking an act of partisan combat, thanks to which the commander-in-chief of the American, Allied forces said “this is how Italians earned the honour of being combatants”.

So, we are not just talking about isolated outbursts, for they are part of a strategy whose objective is precisely that of demolishing the only civil religion in this country — anti-fascism — which, because it is deeply rooted, can always be reborn, can always go underwater and then re-emerge because it is bound up with the history and identity of the Italian people. So, they are proposing a tough fight. But I am very happy with the demonstrations of this past 25 April, which grew in comparison to previous years. It is as if a part of the Italian people had seen that this fight had resumed and decided to take sides. This is a very encouraging development. It needs to be nurtured with systematic political work, thinking of both the great mass movements and the individual initiatives that are flowering in civil society — in the form of schools, educational activities, initiatives on the history of this country, or to put anti-fascist cultures back into circulation, whether that means songs, literature, or occasions for debates.

For the clash between fascism and anti-fascism is underway again. It is a clash in which fascism is not itself in the field, but has been replaced by this pattern that I have tried to describe, which is tasked with defeating anti-fascism, something that could not be done by a revival of fascism, clearly. Hence, the Right has chosen a terrain that it considers more suited to its purposes, and it is up to us to thwart them now.

We need courageous actions, even if they are symbolic — and the symbolic element is extremely important today. For example, since Ignazio La Russa (Fratelli d’Italia) is president of the Senate, why do you not, you a democratic and anti-fascist senator, walk out — showing that you do not accept La Russa to represent the entire assembly? His repeated transgression of the anti-fascist boundaries demands, in my opinion, that democratic parliamentarians reject his legitimacy as president of the Senate.

Morea: Looking at the political response, do you think is it possible to create a new anti-fascist front in Italy?

Bertinotti: No, I think it is not possible. A “front” requires an alliance of forces. The anti-fascist front, in the distant past, meant the alliance of predominantly left-wing parties, even if not only left-wing ones, who had perhaps hitherto been in conflict but joined together in the name of fighting the common enemy. For example, in Italy we can look to the example of Ferruccio Parri’s first government (June-December 1945), because it was an alliance of grassroots forces representing the people. They joined together, thus determining the conditions for a visible, concrete, manifest unity of the people. But who today could represent the alliance of the people?

So, in my opinion the pyramid must be overturned. I do not know if you can call it a front, perhaps a coalition — not a coalition of anti-fascist forces, but rather a coalition for anti-fascism. There has to be this process that I tried to describe earlier, made of initiatives, of studies, of idea generation, of a revival and a rebirth of anti-fascist thought. It has to be nurtured, both by drawing on history and by bringing the Constitution into the present. That also means investigating what is alive and what is dead — not of anti-fascism, which is still alive — but of anti-fascism as enshrined in the Constitution, and of the Constitution itself as effectively transposed into the concrete reality of the country. In short, a living anti-fascism that is also part of the social, economic, political and cultural fight. That has to be a dialectical process, because — far be it from me to imagine there are any automatic mechanisms — I think there has to be a rebirth of anti-fascism, rather than bringing together a front of forces.

Morea: Can you see anything similar happening at the European level?

Bertinotti: Understanding the European level demands a structured, organic reflection of its own. There are lots of moving parts on the institutional-political front. There is a world crisis that the wars bring to the surface, but it can also be read on all kinds of different terrains. We can sum it up as a “systematic instability” of all relations — be they economic, cultural, social, national, or supranational. We can also call it an ungovernability of the world.

As we know, this is brought about precisely by this type of global financial capitalism we are now facing. But it also has a specific political content, think for example of the strategic clash between China and the United States of America. It is as if this wedge were being driven into the living body of the entire world, upsetting all the balances and giving rise to nationalisms and super-nationalisms that fuel wars but also all kinds of tensions. This disordered world has totally disproved the predictions made by the champions of globalisation. Instead of a globalised capitalist order, we see its march into disorder. This goes as far as shattering the semblance of a united Europe.

In just a few months the landscape has changed vastly. After a despairing period of austerity, Europe had seemed to show promising signs in the wake of the Covid emergency. It apparently rediscovered the possibility of an expansive intervention — it would be too much to call it a Keynesian one, but undoubtedly it marked some distancing from the austerity cycle. While this, obviously, remained within an order based on the primacy of the market, it seemed to move — hypothetically — towards a counter-cyclical stance.

But the most recent crisis has shattered this. France and Germany, who are the two locomotives of actually-existing Europe — the Europe of Maastricht and the Europe of governments, the inter-governmental Europe — have decided to move along their own path. I don’t know where this will take us.

In the meantime, new events have happened that I think are of truly gigantic importance. Revolt, in the full sense, has come back onto the stage. The dominant thesis had been that with this social composition of labour and capital, labour conflict is unviable, for all the reasons that sociologists have explained to us a million times. Yet, see what happened. Social and labour struggles are turning London upside down so much that Britain had to invent a new term for its exceptional Christmas of struggles, its “strikemas”. Then you go to France and see eleven, twelve general strikes. To explain why it hasn’t spread to Italy, too, well, we would need a whole conference to discuss that. Nevertheless, the revolt is back on stage. Because in Lisbon there is a huge mobilisation on the issue of rising housing prices, and Paris has been invaded, as I said, by ten or twelve general strikes. Every week, Paris has been subjected to sometimes bitter, violent struggles.

So, the heights of Europe are in crisis. Europe is struggling a lot even to take immediate steps, as we have seen recently, even on this mounting issue of a European intervention to redesign the stability pact — they are not able to come to an agreement. There is the risk that if they do not find an agreement, they will return in some way to the austerity cycle — or something close. This would mean putting a brake on the phase of expansion and active policies. And while that is happening, revolt is back centre-stage. I think that is what we should concern ourselves with. I don’t have any suggestions to offer. But let’s say, if I had to, I would say “you know what? For once, let us concern ourselves a little less with them, and a bit more with ourselves”.