The general election of 24-25 February will see the arrival in Italy’s parliament of a large contingent from a new political movement, the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle or M5S) of the 64-year-old comedian Beppe Grillo.
This new entry will closely parallel the arrival of the Lega Nord in the Italian parliament of 1992. M5S represents an attack on the major political parties and the traditional political class (what the Italians call la casta) and M5S is an attack from the right, not from the left.
Many have perceived Grillo as a figure of the left because of his involvement with earlier anti-Berlusconi movements and demonstrations (such as V Day, V2 Day and No Cav Day), his use of new social media, and his espousal of a horizontalist rhetoric.
Grillo appeared to be aligned with such movements as Popolo Viola (the Purple People) and Se Non Ora Quando? (If not now, when? — a feminist movement that campaigned against Berlusconi’s sexism), which have also used social media to bypass Berlusconi’s near-stranglehold over the mainstream television channels.
Grillo has a good stance on environmental issues and has close links with the No Tav movement against the projected high speed rail link between Lyons and Turin, a movement more usually associated with the radical left.
The rise of Grillo and of such “horizontalist” movements as the Popolo Viola in 2010-11 was a consequence of the ineffectual opposition to Berlusconi by the “post-communist” Partito Democratico della Sinistra/Democratici di Sinistra/Partito Democratico (PDS/DS/PD) and the implosion of Rifondazione Comunista in 2008 in the wake of its disastrous decision to participate at cabinet level in the 2006-8 Prodi government.
However, beneath the superficially attractive surface, is a rightwing demagogue whose movement’s structures are as top-down and as authoritarian as the Lega Nord in the heyday of Umberto Bossi.
Grillo has publicly opposed the granting of Italian citizenship to the children of immigrants and proclaimed his willingness to work with CasaPound, an extremely violent neo-Nazi movement whose rules require all its members to read Mein Kampf but never to deny the Holocaust on Facebook.
CasaPound has a record of murderous attacks on black people — although it tried to distance itself from a member or ex-member who went on a killing spree against Senegalese in Florence — and recently mounted a premeditated physical attack on an election candidate of the radical left Rivoluzione Civile in the Lazio region.
In the course of the general election campaign, Grillo has expressed the view that there is no need for trade unions, provided workers are represented on company boards.
It is misguided to see Grillo’s call for Italy’s exit from the eurozone and return to the lira as progressive. It is all part of a xenophobic package in which “the Germans” rather than Angela Merkel are the object of attack. It presupposes a return to protectionism and competitive devaluations which may be in the interest of certain sections of Italian capital — especially small businesses of the kind that sympathised with the Lega Nord — but are contrary to the interests of the Italian working class, whose real wages would fall even further than they already have over the last decade.
For all its faults, Rivoluzione Civile, an electoral cartel that includes Rifondazione Comunista and the Italian Green Party, represents the only serious electoral opposition to the austerity imposed by the 13 months of Monti’s technocratic government, a government which enjoyed the support of both the PD and Berlusconi for all its anti-working class measures.
Voting for M5S to attack La Casta in 2013 is like voting for the Lega Nord in 1992-94 in response to Tangentopoli: a rightist, xenophobic, racist response to a real crisis of the system.