Hundreds of fascists forced their way into the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) headquarters in Rome on October 9.
Fascist leaders had openly called for this action from the platform of the No Vax, No COVID Pass demonstration. Offices were trashed on several floors. The attack has sent shock waves through the world, Italian politics and the labour movement.
In parliament, interior minister Luciana Lamorgese openly discussed, on October 12, the risks to public order of intervening to arrest Guiliano Castellino, leader of the Roman branch of the Forza Nuova (New Force) fascist party. Castellino called on thousands of demonstrators in the Piazza del Popolo to march on the CGIL headquarters.
A motion to parliament proposed by the Democratic Party (PD), the social liberal party with historic links to the CGIL, calls for a ban on this fascist party, as laid down by the constitution. The government is waiting for guidance from the state prosecutors before taking a decision on this.
Incredibly, the leader of the post-fascist, anti-migrant Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, Giorgia Meloni, argued the government was manipulating the situation, allowing the attack to take place so as to win support and discredit its critics. In a speech at a Madrid rally to her friends in the hard-right Vox party, Meloni said it was not clear who was behind it, despite the presence of a number of known fascist leaders and activists.
In parliament, she invoked the “strategy of tension” that the left had denounced in the 1970s and 80s. Then, the Italian state collaborated with extreme right forces to create a political context in which the left and labour movement were rolled back after radical mass struggles following the 1969 “hot autumn”.
Meloni herself was an activist in a more openly fascist party in her youth. The police traditionally have been more tolerant of hard-right demonstrations than those of the left, there is evidence of hard right and fascist support in their ranks. However, the idea that the fascist assault was all part of a government conspiracy is preposterous.
How was the attack possible?
The extreme right has been able to link up with the thousands of anti-vax and anti-COVID Pass protesters.
Matteo Salvini (leader of the racist Lega – League) and Meloni have both indulged these forces, while being careful not to (too openly) oppose the government’s COVID-19 measures. Meloni blames the government for the attack while her movement has helped stoke the false narrative of a tyrannical government suffocating the liberty of small businesses and individuals.
The anti-vax and anti-COVID Pass movement is particularly strong in Italy. One of the leaders present at the attack, Biago Passaro, has organised the IoApro (I will open) campaign, which mobilised small business owners and some of their employees.
We have noticed over the past year how even some of our friends, who are well to the left of the PD, have questioned the vaccines and conjure up conspiracies about how governments have manipulated the pandemic. They tend to make no distinction between the generally pro-corporate and repressive actions of the government in most areas with the needs of an effective public health response.
A general populist malaise has developed in Italy, particularly with the decline of even a partially social democratic alternative. The rational, progressive culture of civil society generated mostly by the old Italian Communist party is long gone. An idea that all the parties are the same has taken hold. Indeed, today, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government does include all the parties from the so-called left to the right, except for Meloni.
For a period, the Five Star Movement, started by comedian Beppe Grillo, surfed this wave and got up to a third of the popular vote. But it is now in freefall, as its “neither-right-nor-left” mantra and belief that the internet can resolve the political impasse, has fallen apart on the hard rocks of political reality.
Consequently, there is a space for people to be mobilised through the individualised prism of social media around COVID-19 issues.
The normalisation of hard-right ideology on migrants — the great replacement myth — on family values and crime has been mostly carried out by parties like the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia, which form the majority of the right-wing coalition aiming to be the next government. This means openly fascist groups like Forza Nuova or CasaPound can grow more easily.
They are particularly strong in Rome and the Lazio region. Local football clubs, Lazio and Roma, have hard core violent fans cultivated by these groups. Just as we have seen in Britain with Boris Johnson’s Tories and UKIP/Brexit party, there has been a growing synergy between the traditional right of the centre parties and the hard right or post-fascist groups.
Roberto Fiore is the main national leader of Forza Nuova and has a long history of political violence. He was present at the attack and has been arrested. He was condemned for subversion in the 70s, but fled to England. There, he benefitted from right-wing contacts to build up a successful business catering for Italian students studying and living in London. The British government never allowed his extradition back to Italy. He is rumoured to have had contacts with MI5. Returning to Italy in 2006 — as the charges were dropped because of the time elapsed — he was able become a member of the European parliament (MEP) for a few years on a hard-right slate.
As we can see from the media coverage, this fascist “squad” attack on the CGIL HQ was not a minor thing. The mob trashed the ground floor and went up several floors. You do not need to remind many people with an elemental understanding of Italian history that this assault was reminiscent of how Benito Mussolini’s fascists acted in the lead up to his seizure of power.
Tens of thousands of trade unionists understood this as an attack not just on some government COVID-19 policies but a direct threat to the workers’ movement and its democratic gains. They responded immediately to the call by CGIL secretary general Maurizio Landini to defend their union. Mass assemblies came out in front of the national HQ and local offices. The CGIL called a national demonstration — Mai fascism — (Fascism never) on October 16.
Landini and the CGIL have received solidarity from nearly all the political parties — he was embraced personally by Draghi. Calls for mobilisation against the fascists are necessary and should be supported. However, at the same time, Landini and the CGIL are collaborating with Draghi to co-manage the COVID-19 recovery.
Up to now, the CGIL has resisted calls for a general strike to stop the planned sackings at GKN car plants (see recent article), Whirlpool and a number of other factories under threat. Another way forward was presented by the rank and file unions, the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (COBAS). They organised a general strike with quite limited numbers on October 11 with demonstrations in some of the big cities. However, some of these forces indulge the anti-vax movement too.
Franco Turigliatto, ex-senator and leader of Sinistra Capitalista points out in his recent article: “I go to the events and mobilisations organised both by the trade union confederation majority current as well and those called by the rank and file unions. But, I am always concerned and also depressed by the co-management proposals put forward by the conservative leadership as well as the understandably rebellious but often lacking real political substance of the rank and file currents.
“We have seen this dichotomy in the past of the workers movement and it is not easily overcome. At the moment I don’t see enough forces working to reconfigure the movement of opposition so that we can develop a class bloc to respond properly to the capitalist offensive.”
This is a dilemma that exists here and elsewhere for activists in the trade unions.
We can leave the final word to Eliana Como, coordinator of the Riconquistiamo tutto (Win back everything), opposition current in the CGIL. She issued it while the national headquarters of the union was under the fascist attack:
“As expected, the police seemed to be surprised and overwhelmed by the incursion of an absolutely containable number of protesters. The leader of the rioters should have been under house arrest, due to his criminal convictions, but for the umpteenth time he took part and spoke in a demonstration with the acquiescence of the police.
“Strong against the weak but weak faced with the strong. An ambiguity that has precedents since the darkest periods of the Republic.
“The populist language and violent actions are a small scale replica of the fascist squad violence of a hundred years ago. It’s good to be clear: this kind of violence is always against working men and women, even when it seems to lash out at institutional targets and claim to be defending ‘freedom’.
“Perhaps tonight’s raid will upset the harmony between declared neo-fascists and sectors of the petty bourgeoisie whom, since the beginning of the pandemic, have shown themselves intolerant of precautionary measures. Even the so-called non-violent protestors completely ignore demands for a public health service and a universal basic income, which have been raised by the most advanced sectors of the social movements and the workers’ movement.
“Some of our Roman comrades have already reached the Corso Italia headquarters of the CGIL in the evening to defend it during the night. Tomorrow, Sunday, October 10, we will be there, in Rome and in front of every union hall in other cities where defense pickets will be convened. We’ll be there to support the anti-fascist movement. Forza Nuova is one of the groups that should be banned. We will also discuss the urgent need for a general strike against the violence of the bosses’ murders at work, of their sackings and of their profit-making from our labour.” (Extract from Sinistra Anticapitalista’s October 10 communique.)
[Abridged from Anticapitalist Resistance.]