The Italian left, heirs to the strongest communist party in Western Europe and a powerful Catholic political tradition, is struggling to adjust its values and political agenda to the new needs and constrains of the modern globalised world. As the Democratic Party seems set to win Italy’s general elections next year, and thus take control of the third largest economy of the Eurozone, such ideological adjustment is now particularly urgent.
When an economic crisis combines high youth unemployment and an impoverished middle class, there is a real risk of a rise in right-wing extremism. But the left/right divide does not always help to understand European populism. The Italian case is a particularly interesting one. After Berlusconi resigned in disgrace, the main two parties (Berlusconi’s People of Freedom-PDL and the centre-left Democratic Party-PD) were left with no choice but to support a ‘truce government’ of non-politicians and technocrats, led by Mario Monti. This unlikely arrangement froze the parliamentary majority.
History, as Marx taught us, likes to repeat itself: the first time in the form of a tragedy; the second, a farce. What may be unique about Italy, though, is it’s often hard to distinguish between the two. This is a country where the situation is often tragic but never serious.