Lessons for Italy's Left After Giorgia Meloni's Far-Right Victory

The Italian left is doing much soul-searching as it plans to bounce back from a poor performance in the September 2022 general elections.

The victory of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party and its leader Giorgia Meloni came on top during an election with a historically low voter turnout. Yet, analysts noted Meloni's victory was due to more than just low voter turnout. Italy's Democratic Party, the country's main center-left party, earned just 19 percent of the vote—the worst performance in the party's history.

"We need to become a European-style Labor Party, one with European values—that's the lesson from this recent election," said Francesco Senese, a senior official with the Democratic Party in Naples.

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Giorgia Meloni, leader of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) political party leaves the party's headquarters after a national meeting, on October 5, 2022 in Rome, Italy. The victory of the right-wing Brothers of Italy party its leader Giorgia Meloni came during an election with a historically low voter turnout. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

He points out that the populist Five Star Movement has chipped away at the Democratic Party's base in southern Italy in particular. The Five Star Movement passed a "citizen's income" or basic income for all Italians during the last parliament, providing a new government subsidy of €740 per month.

Senese spoke with Zenger News in Naples' Gramsci Café, named after the Italian philosopher whose ideas about cultural Marxism continue to resonate with activists on the political left today. Gramsci died in prison in 1937 as one of many leftists targeted by the regime of Benito Mussolini.

During the recent campaign, the Italian Left compared Meloni to fascist figures like Mussolini. Yet, voters were unswayed by these arguments.

"The Italian Left should invest in developing a vision of where they want this country in ten years' time," said Francesco Grillo, the managing director of Vision and Value, a consulting firm and advisor to the Italian government.

"Unless they can do that then, they will continue to face defeat at the polls and potentially see a split. That is unless they can find someone that can be sort of be like how Emanuel Macron was for French voters in 2017—someone with a "cool" image that unites the liberal and leftist voters in the party."

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Leader of Italian center-left Democratic Party (PD), Enrico Letta gestures as he delivers an address on September 26, 2022 at the party's headquarters in Rome, a day after the country's vote in general elections. During the recent campaign the Italian Left compared Meloni to fascist figures like Benito Mussolini. Alberto PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

When she did talk about economic issues, Meloni presented a more centrist approach than the liberalizing policies of previous conservative governments. Meloni has criticized the "citizens' income" but, largely, focused her campaign on culture war issues, putting her opponents on the back foot.

"[The Democratic Party] spent more time in the campaign defending abortion, LGBT and immigration rights from the threat of the far-right," said Nick Ottens, a European politics analyst. "That helped the right more than it helped the left. Social justice resonates with university-educated Italians in big cities like Bologna and Florence. It doesn't convince the garbage collector in Naples or the unemployed single mother in Palermo that the left has their interests at heart."

Ottens said that Democratic Party ran on a basket of left-wing economic policy prescriptions. These included tax cuts for the lowest incomes, higher salaries for teachers and nurses, and a higher minimum wage. Enrico Letta, who headed the Democratic Party during the elections and is a former Italian Prime Minister, failed to convince voters that these policies were right for Italy.

"These are the right policies to appeal to left-wing voters but, the Democrats in Italy have a similar problem to Democrats in the United States," said Ottens. "They've become an upper-middle-class party that's seen as out-of-touch with the concerns of working voters."

Either way, the Italian Left may get a rematch with Meloni one way or another. Since 1945, Italy has on average a new prime minister every two years and a new government every eighteen months.

Edited by Saman Rizwan and Joseph Hammond.