Neo-fascism and the troubling third way

A new progressive politics is urgently needed in Italy and beyond, says Guy Standing

Rula Jebreal’s poignant and accurate account of Italy’s drift into a dark political night (My beautiful Italy is being driven into the arms of fascists, 9 February) recalled the fact that Matteo Renzi’s attempt, as prime minister, to cast himself as the Italian Tony Blair, pursuing a third-way strategy, was doomed from the outset.

As predicted in the Italian version of my book The Precariat, the pursuit of labour market flexibility without overhauling the outdated welfare system was bound to enlarge and inflame the atavistic part of the precariat, those who would listen to the sirens of neo-fascism.

In Britain, New Labour with its similar efforts combined with means-testing helped to create the mass insecurity that fed into the Tottenham riots and the atavistic support for Ukip and Brexit. In the US, the Democrats did the same, with Clinton’s dreadful Welfare Reform Act of 1996, which with other third-way measures fuelled the growth of support for the evil that is Trump. The Dutch Labour party did similar acts of folly, and have paid a very heavy political price.

In every country, the remnants of old social democrats should look in the mirror, and must resist the temptation to look backwards themselves for some magical Beveridge 2.0. Warmed-up yesterday is no answer to tomorrow’s challenges.

A new progressive politics is urgently needed, based on an understanding of the precariat and an appeal to the many in it who abhor neo-fascism as much as we do.

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Guy Standing
Soas, University of London

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