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Italy and China’s BRI, a nest of capitalist contradictions

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08 June 2024 182 hits

The continually shifting relationship of the Italian government to the U.S. and China testifies to the growing instability of global capitalism. As secondary powers from Africa to Latin America to the Middle East to Europe jockey for dominance amidst sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry, more wars are coming, including world war. And as the capitalists compete for profits, the working class will lose.

In 2016 Italy was the first G-7 country to plan to join the Chinese BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). This infrastructure proposal was meant to turn the Adriatic port of Trieste into a key point of entry of Chinese goods into Europe, as well as converting Genoa, Palermo, and Venice into enlarged trading hubs (see map). Bristling at being dominated by German and French capitalists, Italian capitalists were slipping away from the European Union (EU), seeking greater independent leverage.

Italy caught between competing imperialist powers

For the Chinese imperialists, breaking into the Italian market would gain them a political and financial beachhead in Europe.  It would also foster divisions in the EU, expand Chinese capital into more developed markets and weaken the hold of U.S. imperialism over the NATO-affiliated nations.  

The plan did not work out. Between 2019 and 2023, Italian exports to China increased only from 13B to 16.4B euros. Yet Chinese exports to Italy ballooned from 31.7B euros to 57.5B euros. Only the port of Trieste was developed.  The invasion of Ukraine by Russia—China’s close ally— has, at least temporarily, driven several of the EU nations toward rearmament and supporting Ukraine (Diplomat, September 21, 2023 and November 23, 2023). 

The 2022 election of neo fascist Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister drove the final nail into the coffin of the BRI in Italy. Meloni opportunistically proclaimed herself a committed friend of the U.S., European unity, and support for Ukraine.

But nothing remains stable as imperialist powers compete.  Many nations in the EU rely heavily upon Russian gas for energy and—even without joining the BRI—engage in extensive trade with China, which is Germany’s second-biggest trading partner.  The Meloni government continues to encourage extensive links between Italian and Chinese firms. After publicly snubbing China in 2023, Meloni is currently undertaking a “charm offensive” as Chinese President Xi Jinping was reportedly planning a visit to Europe in May 2024 (Bloomberg, April 10).
Capitalist opportunism and competition know no borders. The BRI “silk road” now has competition from the “cotton road” of the newly created India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). Italy may join (Diplomat, September 21, 2023).  China and India are in tense competition.  If Italy joins IMEC after abandoning the BRI, this decision would mirror the sharpening rivalries among imperialist and would-be imperialist powers. (Independent, January 12).

The working class must run the world— that’s communism!

Whichever ruling classes win this dangerous imperialist competition, the working classes of the world will pay the price. In China, the Gini inequality index is one of the highest in the world. Workers are exploited, strikes abound, tens of millions of youth are unemployed, and migrant laborers within China are super-exploited (China Labour Bulletin, January 31). Workers must move beyond strikes to run all of society. That’s communism.

In Italy, the public healthcare system is being brutally dismantled, with doctors entering the private sector or leaving the country. Education is cut, while teachers are paid poverty-level wages and young people cannot afford to get married and start families. Chinese laborers in factories touting “Made in Italy” earn 20 euros for a boutique “Italian” handbag selling for 350 euros.  Meanwhile, desperate migrants from countries devastated by climate change and violent imperialist profiteering die by the thousands every year trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea—all as Meloni’s racist regime nods in approval. Under communism there would be no borders, no migrants and no racist regimes whether in Italy or China.

Imperialists eventually resolve their contradictions through war. Regional and local wars are raging everywhere. World war is coming. Communists everywhere need to join with the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) in organizing workers to fight their bosses. Turn imperialist war into class war for communism, where the working class runs the world.