Italy's referendum: a vote against neoliberalism and authoritarianism

Soon-to-be-former Italian PM Matteo Renzi just lost a referendum he called on a set of reforms to Italy's constitution, promising to resign if he lost, which he did; many of Italy's far-right, trumpist and berlusconian elements latched onto the No side of the referendum and pitched it as a kind of Italian version of Brexit, a poll on whether Italy would be another stronghold of gamergate-inflected neo-fascism.

But there are very good reasons to hate Renzi's proposals, which sought to erase those parts of the Italian constitution that balanced the interests of the left-wing, anti-fascist resistance and the anti-Mussolini political establishment. The constitution was adopted in 1948 and since then, these reactionaries and oligarchs have sought to centralize power in Rome and take it away from the more progressive regions.

But the referendum wasn't just a poll on Renzi's proposals: Renzi turned it into a plebiscite on Renzi himself, and again, there are plenty of good reasons to want to see the end of Renzi. He wasn't just pro-EU, he was an ardent supporter of the EU's imposed austerity, and all that came with it: the elimination of labor protections and a constitutional amendment that banned borrowing during times of recession (called a "balanced budget" amendment).

It's true that the far right backed No, but so did a lot of other people, and not because they want to help spread trumpism — just the opposite, they voted No as a step toward real progressive reform in Italy, to repudiate attacks on workers and the lifting of finance capital above people. Trumpism is a global cancer, but it is far from universal, and we do ourselves no favors when we credit it with victories that are really resistance.

But it was Renzi's government that succeeded even where Berlusconi had failed. The worst reforms passed by his government included measures like the Jobs Act, which abolished Article 18 of the Statuto dei Lavoratori, which made impossible for employers to fire a worker without justification, and introduced further forms of casualization of labor; and the reform of the public school system, which significantly strengthened the corporate-style management of schools, gravely affecting work conditions for teachers and the nature of the curricula for students.

Ultimately, Renzi hoped to pass both an antidemocratic constitutional reform combined with a new electoral law that would have established a majority bonus system in the Chamber of Deputies: as an outcome the government would have achieved entire control of the parliament, including control of the times for parliamentary discussion on laws deemed to be part of the government's program.

It's worth considering what would have happened if Yes had won. Likely, we would have seen a continued rise of the populist and far right in Italy, fueled by a center-left that has incessantly put forward austerity and neoliberal policies which have significantly worsened the conditions of life of the Italian population, affecting in particular younger people, whose chances of even finding a decent job are nil. (Not by chance, 81 percent of voters between eighteen and thirty-four voted No and Yes won only among voters older than fifty-three.)

Democracy Against Neoliberalism [Cinzia Arruzza/Jacobin]

(Image: Matteo Renzi and Vladimir Putin in 2016, Kremlin, CC-BY)