Italy: Personalities preempt politics (book review)

April 12th, 2021


First They Took Rome: How the Populist Right Conquered Italy by David Broder

Does Italy’s often bewildering political volatility contain any lessons for the Left?

David Broder believes it does. In First They Took Rome (Verso), the Europe editor of Jacobin magazine argues that Italian politics may be less the exception than the rule in the future. He sees Italy’s political fragmentation over the past 30 years as a national case study of a larger globalized pattern. Broder is here to tell us how this came to be and what lessons we can draw from it.

Broder argues that the collapse of the mass parties of both Left and Right that structured postwar Italy led to their replacement by an ever-shifting sea of media- and personality-driven political groupings. Previously, the right-Catholic Christian Democracy party had held continuous national political power. In perennial opposition—but always excluded from national government—was the massive Italian Communist Party. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ended this Cold War divide, thereby opening a new era for Italian politics.

This historic shift led to the domination of Italy’s political system by such figures and formations as billionaire Silvio Berlusconi (a businessman with no prior political experience who has been prime minister in four different governments), Matteo Salvini’s far-right Lega Party, and the ever-amorphous Five Star Movement (M5S). Broder traces their histories, analyzes their developments, and locates their social bases in Italian society.

Despite dominating Italian politics for more than a decade, Berlusconi plays the smallest role in the overall story. His Forza Italia political party is today a shell of its former self. Instead, it is now the anti-migrant Lega (previously Lega Nord, reflecting its northern-separatist origins) that is the leading right-wing party, somewhat ironically capturing the rural-southern vote in the process. The “neither left nor right” M5S, on the other hand, has made significant inroads into the historic voting base of the Italian Left.

Broder argues that, despite their many differences, both Lega and M5S share a common “anti-political” project. Each reflects an explicit turn away from the realm of formal politics. This is in sharp contrast to Italy’s previous system of mass parties, where each membership-based party sought to use electoral campaigns to organize a broader civil society, albeit often corruptly.

Today, Italy’s populists place themselves in conscious opposition to party-organized politics, what they term the partitocrazia or the political “caste.” This is in part a legitimate reaction to the wave of corruption scandals in the early 1990s that led to the collapse of Italy’s existing party system. But, as Broder notes, it also reflects a deeper and more troubling distrust among many Italians in the ability of political action to solve society’s problems.

For Broder, this loss of faith in collective political action makes Italy a symbol of our present condition. The trends themselves are global: depoliticization, rising inequality, falling public investment, and growing social atomization. But in Italy, the political manifestation of these neoliberal trends has taken on a particularly acute form. First They Took Rome presents a compelling story of the dangers that arise when mass political parties are removed from public life.

Democratic Left for more

The monkey’s face. The climate crisis is destroying “real environmentalism”

April 12th, 2021


“The more reified the world becomes, the thicker the veil cast upon nature, the more the thinking weaving that veil in its turn claims ideologically to be nature, primordial experience.” — Theodor Adorno (Critical Models)

“Nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history.” — Raymond Williams (Culture and Materialism, 2005)

“It is obvious that an imagined world, however different it may be from the real one, must have something — a form — in common with it.” — Wittgenstein (Tractatus)

“Year after year
On the monkey’s face:
A monkey’s face.”

What I am seeing of late is that the Climate Crisis is destroying environmentalism. What I consider real environmentalism. The Climate discourse is quickly being taken over by monied interests whose desire is to save capitalism before they save the planet. They fly (in jets, often private) to conferences in which avocados (or whatever) are flown in from California (or wherever). And there is aristocracy, literally, in attendance. It feels almost required. The British or Dutch Royals, if we’re talking carbon footprints, are tracking in with size 12 Florsheims– while the indigenous activists who toil and are persecuted in places such as Honduras, or Colombia, are not invited. They are of an other way of life, the life of actual concern for nature. These conferences are a kind of ceremonial environmentalism.

And the branded progressives of the Democratic Party, Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, feint to the left with tepid rebukes to the establishment, but quickly tack to the right with praise for blood drenched ghouls like Madelaine Albright and even Gloria Estafan, whose father in fact was a bodyguard for Batista. Who “fled” Cuba (meaning fled the evils of communism) and thereby should be seen as a role model of some sort for young liberals and (yes) environmentalists… because brand loyalty being what it is, etc etc.)

Meanwhile back at the conference, there is the issue of packaging. And I want to examine the packaging industry for a moment. Everything comes in a package. That is mass production at work. You can buy small yogurts that amount to five spoonfuls and then you must throw out the plastic container. The world is awash in plastics. And not only are plastics destroying the oceans and marine mammals and fish, pliable plastic is downright poisonous to the human beings. And this has been known for some time now. I first read about BPA and the effects of plastics in the early 90s.

Global Research for more

Making light of an elephant

April 12th, 2021



Just over four decades ago, as I was driving my VW Beetle in Islamabad, a street dog standing aimlessly on the edge of the road suddenly decided to cross directly in my path. I applied the brakes, swerved a little, but a corner of the front bumper of the car collided with his head. With me in the car was a major of the Pakistan army who, noting my feeling of anguish, said: “Don’t feel too bad, he was living a dog’s life anyway.”

If this were to happen now, he might have substituted “elephant” or perhaps “Kaavan”, for “dog”. Though the tale of Kaavan the elephant has a happy ending, his tormented life in Islamabad Zoo has been reported throughout the world. As a year-old cub, he had been gifted to the Pakistani president in 1985 by his Sri Lankan counterpart as a gesture of friendship between the two countries.

Kaavan should have considered himself lucky being the beneficiary of such highest-level favour and to be lodged in a zoo in “Islamabad the Beautiful”, as we like to call our capital city. But that was not to be. A few weeks ago, as a result of an international humane intervention, the distressed animal was rescued from the zoo and transported to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

Pakistan has thus made light of an elephant, both physically and in a manner of speaking. It should be a matter of national shame, but few Pakistanis have batted an eyelid over the fact that a country with the world’s 5th largest population and 6th largest army, a proud nuclear power and a boastful champion of Islam, has failed to care for the centre-piece animal in the only zoo in their capital city. With the departure of its sole elephant and the wretched condition of its remaining live exhibits, the zoo has now been closed. “Islamabad the Beautiful” is now without a zoo.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, who surveys world affairs with a majestic sweep and maintains a robust presence on social media, has not said a word about Kaavan or about the zoo closure, to the best of my knowledge. To give the tale a touch of irony or, should I say, add insult to Kaavan’s injury (which was both physical and mental), and even before the miserable elephant vanished from the news cycle, he thought fit to post videos of himself being playful with his two lovely, sturdy dogs.

Pakistan’s zoos, mired in apathy, corruption and incompetence, would be a study in absolute misery for its captive animals. Of course, there are good people too. A group of volunteers called the Friends of Islamabad Zoo (FIZ), following periodic surveys, raised questions over the fluctuating number of animals in the zoo. When they pointed out these anomalies, the vanished animals soon (re)appeared in their enclosures.

There are strong indications that some zoo animals, mainly black bucks, were being sold for a price to influential and rich people to add variety and prestige to their barbecue parties.

Karachi Zoo, established in 1878 during British colonial rule, has a history of unnatural animal deaths. A pair of Arabian Oryx, classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), gave birth to a female in 2007 and to a male and a female the following year, both of which died shortly after.

The first-born Oryx gave birth in 2010 to another calf, which died the following day. Four days later, the mother of the calf also died. The female of the original pair from 2007 met the same fate in 2010 from a foot injury.

In 2016, a 16-year-old Bengal tiger named Alex died in the zoo from kidney failure. Around the same time, the zoo lost three young blackbucks in a fight within the enclosure during the night, for there is no monitoring of animals during those hours. Three newborn puma cubs have also died in the zoo.

Razi Azmi for more

Weekend Edition

April 9th, 2021

She caught fire*

April 9th, 2021



Negotiations are held, bargains are made

music is played, songs are sung

dances are danced and amidst the atmosphere

of jubilation and heavy-heartedness

a bride separates from her parents-

a sad moment for her and her family –

and enters the bridegroom’s household,

in most instances, a totally different atmosphere

She has brought things given by her family,

According to their maximum capacity,

As dowry- a must part in most places in South Asia.

the dowry is not upto the fantasy

of the the bridegroom, or the family,

or the friends, or the relatives.

Because the consumptive appetite is on the rise

keeping pace with the increasing advertising vice.

“The bride was cooking food on the stove,

caught fire, and got burned to death.”

The national excuse given for the murder of the bride.

The man now hunts for the second bride.

Negotiations are held, bargains are made

music is played, songs are sung

dances are danced ,,,

A second bride separates from her family …

The national excuse is given, ..Music is played ...

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

*The above poem first appeared in a Los Angeles based South Asian Weekly – India Journal.

Rich farmers, global plots, local stupidity

April 9th, 2021


The governance of the gulag: Barricading at Singhu border near farmers protest site, in New Delhi, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. PHOTO/PTI/Kamal Singh

It’s an astonishing achievement of this government that it has united a huge and unlikely spectrum of social forces, including some traditional adversaries.

Cutting off water and electricity to lakhs of human beings, exposing them to serious health hazards by doing so, having police and paramilitary barricade them into cut-off zones while imposing dangerously insanitary conditions on them, making it almost impossible for journalists to reach the protesting farmers, punishing a group that has already seen perhaps 200 of its own die, many from hypothermia, in the past two months. Anywhere in the world this would be seen as barbaric and an assault on human rights and dignity.

But we, our government and ruling elite are preoccupied with far more pressing concerns. Such as how to smash the conspiracy of dreaded global terrorists Rihanna and Greta Thunberg aimed at defaming and humiliating the greatest nation on earth.

As fiction, that would insanely funny. As reality, it’s merely insane.

While all of this is shocking, it should not be surprising. Even those who bought the slogan minimal government, maximum governance should have figured it out by now. The real deal was government muscular maximus and maximal gory governance. What is worrying is the studied silence of so many otherwise articulate voices, some of whom have never failed to spring to the defence of power and cheerlead all such laws. You’d think even they would disapprove this everyday trashing of democracy.

Every single member of the Union cabinet knows what really stands in the way of a resolution to the ongoing farmer protests.

They know there was never any consultation with the farmers on the three laws – though the peasants were seeking it from the day they knew these were being promulgated as ordinances.

There was never any consultation with the states in the making of these laws – though agriculture is in the state list in the constitution. Nor was there any with opposition parties, or within parliament itself.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and Union cabinet members know there were no consultations – because they were never consulted themselves. Neither on this, nor on most other critical issues. Their task is to roll back the waves of the ocean when so ordered by their leader.

The Wire for more

History repeating: the surprising link between toxic masculinity and Australia’s convict past

April 9th, 2021


PHOTO/ Shutterstock

It has been a momentous, demanding few weeks for Australia. Amid growing revelations of sexual assaults and toxic workplaces and people taking to the streets to voice their anger and frustration, it’s possible we are finally facing a reckoning on gender relations.

But as we debate – again – how to move into a more equal future, it is also useful to look to our convict past. This has an impact on the issues we face today, and in particular, our idea of masculine norms.

My research with colleagues Victoria Baranov and Ralph De Haas has used data from a unique natural experiment – convict Australia. This was a time when men far outnumbered women.

We found those early days of intensified competition between men, and the violence that stemmed from this, created behaviours – and dangerous norms about masculinity – that continue in modern Australia today.

The convict experiment

According to traditional gender norms, men should be self-reliant, assertive, competitive, violent when needed, and in control of their emotions.

In our recent research, we argued strict masculinity norms can emerge when men vastly outnumber women. This is due to competition increasing and intensifying among men because there are fewer women to partner with.

This can intensify violence, bullying, and intimidating behaviours that, once entrenched in local culture, continue to manifest themselves long after sex ratios have normalised.

We tested this hypothesis using data on the convict colonisation of Australia. In just under 100 years, between 1787 and 1868, Britain transported 132,308 convict men and only 24,960 convict women to Australia. Migrants were also mostly male. So, there were far more men than women in Australia until well into the 20th century.

We used historical census data and combined them with current data on violence, sexual and domestic assault, suicide and bullying in schools. From that, we were able to see the regions with significantly more men than women back in convict times still experience problems today. This is even when we account for the influence of the total number of convicts, geographic characteristics, and present-day characteristics of these regions, including education, religion, urbanisation and income.

Health and violence

First, we looked at the impact of the convict gender imbalance on current day violence and health outcomes.

Newsroom for more

Poor nations left reeling after Bill Gates advised Oxford to ditch open source COVID vaccine

April 8th, 2021


Unable to secure a profit in immunizing poorer nations, Western multinationals, including Oxford’s private partner AstraZeneca, have prioritized those who can pay the most.

Europe is reeling from the shock news that biotech giant AstraZeneca will not be delivering anything like the number of vaccines it promised. The company informed European Union officials that they will only be supplying 31 million doses to 27 E.U. countries, rather than the 80 million they had promised would arrive by the end of March. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti predicted that the news would reap “enormous damage” on the continent that has already sustained over 32 million confirmed cases and 703,000 deaths due to COVID-19.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had been hailed last year as a miracle in the global fight against the coronavirus primarily because the research team at Oxford University had promised to share the rights to its product with any and all drugmakers, meaning that poorer countries could produce and inoculate their citizens at cost price ($3-$4 per shot — a fraction of the price of those from Pfizer or Moderna).

Last year, economist and drug patent reform advocate Dean Baker told MintPress that,

“The Oxford vaccine is even more striking, since the point was to pay researchers, but not to rely on patent monopolies to generate large profits. We ended up with a cheaper, better vaccine…It would be great if we could take away some lessons from the experience of vaccine development in this crisis and get away from the antiquated patent monopoly mechanism for financing research.”

However, behind the scenes, the Oxford team reneged on their promise, signing an exclusive deal with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, who made no commitment to selling the lifesaving vaccine at a low price. Even less well-known is that the decision was taken at the behest of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. “We went to Oxford and said, ‘Hey, you’re doing brilliant work,’” Gates said, “But…you really need to team up.” The 65-year-old tech tycoon is a strong proponent of patents and spends much of his time shaping global health policy.

James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit that works to expand access to medical technology, said that “Gates has staked out this outsized role in the vaccine world…He has an ideological belief that the intellectual property system is a wonderful mechanism that is necessary for innovation and prosperity.”

Mint Press for more

Identity rules: A report from reddening Chicago

April 8th, 2021


Chicago’s First Family-Elect: Lori Lightfoot with her wife, Amy Eshleman (in blue dress) and their daughter, Vivian. On 20 May 2019, Lightfoot became the mayor.

Fake-Progressive Identity Cloaking

Beyond the identity-politicized excitement of Chicago electing its first Black female chief executive and becoming the largest U.S. city to have a Black female mayor (and to have a gay mayor), there wasn’t all that much for a leftist to choose from between victor Lori Lightfoot and her opponent Toni Preckwinkle. Mayor-Elect Lightfoot is a longtime corporate lawyer, a partner in the venerable multinational Mayer- Brown firm, and a former federal prosecutor. She covered for the legendarily racist Chicago police (currently operating under a federal civil rights consent decree) in her role as the head of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Police Accountability Task Force. She did the same on the Chicago Police Board under Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Chicago Tribune investigation of Lightfoot’s Mayer-Brown years found that “she has represented corporate clients accused of racial discrimination, as well as police and prosecutors accused of the kind of misconduct she has criticized as a candidate. Lightfoot also has made millions of dollars working at a firm whose attorneys have represented tobacco companies and other corporate clients accused of egregious wrongdoing.”

None of this stopped Lightfoot from branding herself as an outsider “progressive” seeking to clean up the city’s corrupt practices and deliver its forgotten people and neighborhoods from oppression and neglect.

“It’s hard,” Chicago native Matt Reichel wrote me, “not to be skeptical of a former federal prosecutor who spent most of her career siding with the cops in police misconduct cases until she recently decided to opportunistically rebrand herself a ‘reformer.’”

There’s a reason that white police officers voted for Lightfoot. “If someone had told me in the era of Richard J. Daley (when I moved to Chicago) that cop neighborhoods such as Mount Greenwood would vote overwhelmingly for an African American woman,” longtime Chicago activist Kingsley Clark writes, “I would have said: ‘What are you smoking, man!’ The word ‘progressive’ lost meaning with the Clintons and was buried deep in this mayoral election. Those Chicagoans who cling to that illusory concept are going to be mightily disappointed.”

Like with the silver-tongued neoliberal “from Chicago” (really from Honolulu and Harvard Law) Barack Obama? Obama must have used the word “progressive” at least a thousand times to describe himself on his path to the presidency between 2004 and 2009. We saw how that worked out.

The 44th president called to congratulate Lightfoot, one rich fake-progressive identity-cloaked corporatist talking to another.

A Neoliberal Machine Mayor-in-Waiting

Paul Street for more

How Jacobin and the Democratic Socialists of America aided the Teamsters’ betrayal of the Hunts Point market strike

April 8th, 2021


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking to striking workers at the Bronx’s Hunts Point Produce Market in New York City on January 20, 2020. PHOTO/Twitter

Last weekend, the Teamsters union forced through a sell-out contract to end a six-day strike by 1,400 workers at the Hunts Point produce market in the Bronx in New York City. Workers who struck for a modest $1 per hour raise per year, were left with an average annual wage increase of 62 cents more for new hires and 40 cents for veteran workers over the next three years. Most of the wage increase, moreover, is offset by reductions in their health care benefits.

The deal was passed in a snap ratification vote engineered by the Teamsters who told workers to vote on a three-year deal that they did not see or have a chance to discuss. Workers were not even allowed to keep the single-page “highlights” distributed by Teamsters officials. The Teamsters union, which has over $419 million in assets according to its 2019 Labor Department filing, did not pay a dime in strike benefits to Hunts Point workers. Facing economic hardship and knowing full well that the union would not fight for any better contract terms, the workers voted to end the strike and get back to work.

The strike itself was an initial expression of the immense radicalization of the working class amidst the homicidal response by the ruling class to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the danger of dictatorship and war. Set in the center of international finance capital and at one of the largest food produce markets in the world, the strike immediately provoked enormous alarm within the ruling class. After the strike was announced in a press conference that prominently featured Democratic Party officials, the Democrats showed their real face when the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio sent riot cops from the New York Police Department on January 18 to ensure that scabs could enter the market and operations be continued. Several workers were arrested.

The major concern of Local 202 President Daniel Kane Jr., the Teamsters bureaucracy and the Democratic Party was to keep the strike contained and to shut it down before it became a rallying point for a counter-offensive of the working class throughout the city against the criminal response of the corporate and political establishment to the pandemic.

Of the 3,000 workers at the market, only 1,400 were called out on strike, while the United Food and Commercial Workers union kept its members working in the fish and meat markets. No appeals were made to other sections of workers even though the eyes of millions of workers throughout New York City, the US and internationally were set on the strike.

However, the union would not have been able to push through this betrayal without the assistance from the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and especially Democratic Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Throughout the strike, Jacobin, which is closely associated with the DSA, effectively functioned as the press agency for the Teamsters, promoting the illusion that the Teamsters union and the Democrats were standing on the sides of the workers.

World Socialist Web Site for more