The former government parties of Silvio Berlusconi and Umberto Bossi were emphatically defeated in Italy’s administrative elections of 6-7 May.
The success of Genovese comic Beppe Grillo’s “Five State Movement” was another notable feature. Grillo is the radical-populist scourge and bête-noire of the whole bourgeois political order in Italy.
Berlusconi’s party lost 61% of its support compared with the same elections two years ago, even it its major strongholds, while La Lega of Bossi fared even worse. In its heartlands it lost 67%, and 30% in localities of populations under 15,000.
Already having lost Milan a year ago in the first signs of mounting disaffection, the former coalition has now lost in nearly every major city in the north (gaining only Genova, a vile redoubt of reaction even before Bossi and co. arrived there 10 years ago). The crisis of the centre-right is profound. Berlusconi sustains (just!) the Monti government, while La Lega calls for his head, frantically posing as a principled opponent to policies whose substance and spirit it embraced in years of power-sharing with Berlusconi.
The (social-democratic) Democratic Party lost 91,000 votes — 60,000 in the North.
Significantly, it lost 20,000 in the traditional bastions of “red Italy” — Toscana, Emilia and Marche. Here, in a reflection of the overall picture, abstention was high. Nationally it averaged more than 10%. There was a decline of 16% for the more “radical” elements of the centre-left coalition (including Rifondazione Comunista), underlining the critical weakness of forces which are increasingly impotent before capitalism in crisis. How could it be otherwise, when self-professed “communists” and “socialists” have once again hitched themselves to the parliamentary wagon of the Democrats? This is a force that has been, and will remain, the principal instrument of support for the present government and its rampant assault on the very masses these “radicals” claim to champion.
It is a spectacle that is as farcical as it is shameful and humiliating, revealing once more that these forces have learnt nothing from the debacle of their opportunist role in the collapse of the last Prodi-led centre-left government.
The recent announcement by the left leaders of the foundation of a movement of “social opposition to the Monti government” — appealing to all the forces of the left to join, and appealing for the union leaders to call a general strike (i.e. a one-day affair) is a cynical attempt to create another left bloc.
The only real victor in the election was the “Five Star Movement” of Beppe Grillo, sometime comedian and now the bête-noire of Italy’s establishment and bourgeois media. It stood in 101 councils out of 941 and won 240,000 votes — nearly 9% nationally. But in the north, it doubled, trebled, and quadrupled its vote, especially in the cities, where next week some of its candidates will figure in head-to-head run-offs with the Democrats for the mayoral seats.
Grillo and his supporters abjure any notion of a “party”, a term poisoned by its association with the “ideologies” of “left” and “right”, “capitalism” or “socialism” — all of them, in the view of Grillo and his supporters, instruments and expressions of a wholly corrupt order. The movement constitutes itself through online organising. Its generally radical, plebeian-democratic openness explains its rising appeal. Compared to the fervency with which Grillo and other “Five Star Movement” leaders challenge the corruption at the heart of Italy’s political system and push for openness and accountability, the revolutionary left look like Boy Scouts.
Grillo’s populism offers no way out of the present situation enveloping the masses, and his successes will increasingly sharpen the contradictions of a force whose members generally have at one time or another identified with or been sympathetic to the left.
Grillo himself is an loose cannon. In February 2012 he responded to Monti’s declaration that citizenship rights would be given to the children of immigrants by issuing a racist denunciation, provoking conflict and resignations within his movement. More recently, he announced support for Italy’s withdrawal from the Euro, garbling half-baked economic speculations. He is acutely aware that there are forces of the right listening appreciatively to him, and recognises that the eclipse of the right, with the increasing fragmentation of the parties and electorate, offers him a growing opportunity to fill the vacuum.
His thirst for power becomes more discernible the more he tastes it.