By ALBERTO MADOGLIO
This article has been translated from the website of the Partito di Alternativa Comunista (PdAC), Italian section of the International Workers League-Fourth International, where it first appeared.
Italy’s military budget currently sits at €26 billion. The Italian Parliament has approved a bill that would raise that figure to €38 billion. This is an enormous leap, one that fits into a broader increase of expenditures to boost Italian imperialist military power. According to the online newspaper Osservatorio Diritti, the Italian state has been enlarging its military budget since 2017. In the same period, it has cut funding to the welfare state (health, pensions, infrastructure, education) and slashed even the token increases in public employees’ salaries. The excuse given was that there simply wasn’t money available to fund them. Meanwhile, the military budget has increased from €21.5 billion in 2019 to more than €25.5 in 2022, an increase of roughly 20%.
The politics of rearmament are nothing new
The time frame in question is an interesting one: These were the years when the executive branch was held by a coalition between the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement) and the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party). According to a certain line of propaganda, this was supposed to be a government that was breaking with the policies of previous administrations, including in the matter of military spending.
Indeed, we can remember that the Five Star Movement ran their campaign on a platform that included opposition both to the purchase of F35 fighter planes and to the launch of a second aircraft carrier. They had also voiced a demand to dismantle the notorious Niscemi radar base, a U.S. military installation in Sicily.
[The satellite dishes at this base are integral to the worldwide military communications satellite system of the United States. These dishes were built despite earlier conclusions that the installation’s electromagnetic radiation posed “risks for grave accidents and damage to the surrounding population and environment as a whole.” This site, and the opposition to it, had been a focal point on Italian news channels for years. — Editors]
Of course, the Five Star Movement kept none of the aforementioned election promises; instead, these self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” showed themselves to be among the most vigorous defenders of Italian imperialist and militarist foreign policy.
Various people who now declare themselves opposed to raising military spending were silent at that time, among them Nicola Fratoianni, spokesperson for the democratic socialist party Sinistra Italiana, and Marco Travaglio, director of the newspaper Fatto Quotidiano. Instead, these two were very vocal in characterizing then Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte as a champion of the downtrodden. Put plainly, the shift in certain sectors’ stances evidences nothing more than a politically calculated move to oppose the Draghi government for tactical reasons.
Returning to today: We are witnessing a substantial upswing in the militaristic posturing of not only the Italian state but the other major European powers too. The justification for this shift of gears has been sought in the dramatic events unleashed by the brutal military aggression of Russia in Ukraine.
Such clear evidence of Moscow’s expansionist goals and superpower ambitions have set off alarm bells in halls of power across Europe, where governments have set out to batten down the hatches. We have already mentioned Italy’s planned military spending increase to €38 billion. France, a nuclear power, has meanwhile announced it will invest €50 billion. Germany has allocated twice that, €100 billion, as it transitions out of the low military profile it has maintained following its role in the two world wars.
As with other world powers, the Italian government’s ultimate concern lies in vying for a share of the global market. Competition is getting ever intense. As always, shares of the market are not parceled out peacefully; competition in the economic sphere always relies on military might. In the world today, it is increasingly probable that contests for economic supremacy will involve the intervention of armed forces.
As of now, the imperialist countries are presenting themselves as united against the threat of Russia, but it is clear that this unity will crack under the pressure of global competition. For instance, we doubt that the French or Italian governments, other than for reasons of propaganda, actually view Germany’s rearmament favorably. As Germany pairs its already existing economic power with a move for military power, this development cannot be anything but worrying even for those regimes that currently consider themselves its allies.
According to a Greenpeace study, oil and gas companies like the multinational Eni have received €2.4 billion of the spending on military missions abroad in the past four years. And Italian Minister of Defense Lorenzo Guerini was clear in July 2021 about the need for Italy to “have a war machine on hand that is capable of expressing the military capacities needed to safeguard the country’s national interests.”
The interests of the bourgeoisie
The interests defended by the Draghi administration are not those of workers, youth, women, and the exploited more generally—though these groups are the first to pay the price for such militaristic policies. Nor does the government’s interest lie in supporting the resistance of the Ukrainian people against Putin’s aggression. The government instead defends the interests of the bourgeoisie that wants to impose its own extortionary policies on semi-colonial countries with the support of land, naval, and air forces.
If the bill approved by Parliament can be said to have any merit, this lies in the fact that it unmasks the hypocrisy of the Italian ruling class. Today it is plainly evident that when the government made the choice to not invest in public services, when it made the choice to not raise salaries, when it made the choice to not lower the age at which workers can receive pensions, these had nothing to do with objective difficulties in the national budget; they were instead specific political decisions. How can there be any truth in the idea that “we can’t return to the pension system as it was before the Fornero reforms because it would constitute an untenable expenditure for the national budget” if at the same time €12-14 billion can be conjured up for the military (without even taking into account additional future spending)? The Italian rearmament not only takes the place of expenditures that benefit the working class; it furthermore will dictate new sacrifices and cuts on what remains of the welfare state.
The responsibilities of union bureaucracies
Approved by an overwhelming majority of the parties present in Parliament, this military spending bill puts the union bureaucracies in a difficult position. Italy’s largest union, the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), has recently based itself on the following approach: It postures itself in opposition to policies of austerity; even though this antagonism is more form than substance, it makes the union representative of the widespread discontent that these decisions elicit from workers in the union and outside of it. But the CGIL bureaucracy has simultaneously always considered these austerity policies unavoidable, in more or less explicit terms. It avoids instigating wide-ranging social upheaval and takes on a so-called responsibility to “national interest.”
Now all of this false and deceitful posturing can collapse once and for all.
The Draghi administration, as it prepares to act on Parliament’s request for an increase in military spending, simultaneously prepares to slash €6 billion from public health over the next two-year period. This is also the same administration that is not guaranteeing salary increases for public employees.
Faced with all of this, what will CGIL General Secretary Maurizio Landini and his colleagues do? How will they continue to justify their inaction before the eyes of the working masses? We have no illusions that the union bureaucrats will make a sincere apology and ditch their politics of class collaboration.
No facts, not even clear and incontrovertible ones, can convince the union bureaucrats of the need for a breakthrough in action. They are constrained by the desire to maintain their privileged position, even as this position itself is more and more eroded by the economic crisis. They are constrained to betray and mislead the workers that they claim to defend.
If there was any lack of certainty about the need to build an alternative direction that is revolutionary and class-based, it is demonstrated plainly by the unraveling of these events. This revolutionary, class-based direction can confront the prevailing apparatuses of the workers’ movement and defeat policies of austerity and militarism, whichever bourgeois party may enact them.
The original article can be found at: