Italy’s center left isn’t helping to defeat Meloni

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Giorgio Fontana is an Italian writer and novelist living and working in Milan.

For Italy, the future is bleak.

It seems there’s no choice but to hold one’s nose and vote for anyone who can stop a post-fascist wave from washing across the country. It looks like an ethical imperative.

At least that’s the position of philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais who, in an editorial last month, said it’s impossible to be picky. What’s at stake for d’Arcais is civilization “as it was a century ago”— that is, as it was at the time of Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome, the grim anniversary of which falls on October 28, a month after Italy is set to hold its parliamentary elections.

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But what about those who decide not to vote at all? Polls predict there will be a growth in abstentions due to widespread distrust in political parties, especially among those under 35. And if these abstainers are left-oriented, must we conclude they’re immoral?

Let me be clear: As an anti-fascist, I absolutely want to stop the “black wave.” A win for a right-wing alliance led by Giorgia Meloni would be a disaster, leading to widespread xenophobia, unequal fiscal reforms and a culture of fear and resentment to say the very least. Abuse of power and a couldn’t-care-less attitude would become politically justified.

But the “negative argument”— voting firstly to stem a threat — has been common currency for the left for about two decades, and it has weakened the center left’s ability to build a valuable program and support.

In 2001, the Economist had deemed Silvio Berlusconi unfit to run Italy, concluding that his election “would mark a dark day for Italian democracy and the rule of law.” And since then, leftist democrats have couched their campaigns as a matter of “either us or the wolf.” Either us or Silvio Berlusconi, or Beppe Grillo, or Matteo Salvini or Giorgia Meloni . . .

Of course, in Italy there’s never been a truly democratic right wing: It’s either been perpetually polluted by fascism, with today’s the League and the Brothers of Italy as the Italian Social Movement of yesteryear; or it’s been tainted by judicial and moral issues, by Berlusconi today just as parts of the Christian Democracy were yesterday; or it’s been masked by revolutionary ambitions that hide a retrogressive nature, with today’s Five Star Movement as the Common Man’s Front of yesterday.

Perhaps our election campaigns since 1948 have always been partially based on fear. In the past, it was the phobia of communism — a technique Berlusconi retooled and used himself in his campaigns.

But focusing on a threat is a bad way to promote an alternative. Stopping a right wing tainted by neo-fascism is just a first step. After that, an elected government must run the country — hopefully, with a good plan. And to simply pursue “Draghi’s agenda” isn’t enough — averting a crisis now in order to face a bigger one later isn’t a strategy.

To be sure, unlike voting, abstention doesn’t demonstrate an explicit choice. One can opt out of an election out of general disinterest but also out of fatigue and a lack of identification. It would be a mistake to read it as a mere sign of moral deficit. It highlights a structural issue, a vaster problem of trust in representative democracy.

So, yes, it’s necessary to vote to stop the right. But it’s also reductive to think that politics just boils down to a vote every few years.

Politics is an everyday thing. It’s the vibrant charity system that runs through the country; through the secular and Catholic associations, labor unions, mutual aid organizations, self-managed social centers, feminist leagues, etc. Getting these people concretely involved rather than simply focusing on party alliances is vital.

Overall, the right has fewer problems. Its strategy is a brutal one, and it knows how to foment hatred and division perfectly. Whereas the task for the left is to build a credible and radical alternative for those who believe in social equality and want to avert global warming — to name only two obvious issues — without just resorting to the “anyone-but-them” argument.

Simply assuming that “they will vote for us anyway” could be lethal mistake.