Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement (M5S) is tapping and now successfully channelling outrage, anger and hatred, has fabricated a massive internet-based “anti political radical populism” unique in Europe and it is now the largest single political force in Italy, with 108 seats in La Camera and 54 in the Senate. It won more than a quarter of all votes cast.
M5S pledges to reject austerity and eradicate corruption from political life. M5S has tapped into, and now successfully channelled, outrage, anger, and hatred of the political establishment.
It has built a massive anti-political radical populism”, unique in Europe. It is now the only genuinely national force geographically, with its support coming in relatively equal measure from all over Italy.
In contrast, the 10 million or so votes lost between them by the Democrats, Berlusconi, and The Northern League has seen their respective power bases shrink, especially where they were formerly strongest, and their support is now concentrated in specific regions.
While Grillo correctly exposes the obscene disparity of the incomes and corrupt privileges of the corrupt political-establishment “caste” and their cliques in the social administration of the country, little is said of the same obscenity among bosses like Marchionne, head of Fiat. Instead, M5S’s rhetoric appeals to a vision of a utopian petty-bourgeois, pre-modern self-sufficiency.
It is fatally open — as Grillo has already shamefully demonstrated — to the poisonous currents of nationalist, racist reaction, incarnate among Italy’s multi-millioned small and medium-sized producers, to say nothing of its hordes of outright fascists.
Furthermore, M5S has no physical roots in the trade unions, workplaces, or communities — the indispensable bedrock for any democratic mass resistance to emerge. Rather, it defines itself as an exercise in “liquid democracy”, whose electoral success underlines the débâcle of a stagnant, bureaucratic workers’ movement in tandem with a radical left stuck in one opportunist cul-de-sac after another.
M5S’s difficulties are further complicated by the figures of Grillo and Casaleggio, not only as the legal proprietors of the M5S website, but also because of the latter’s murky relations with international financial foundations and think-tanks, which raise questions about accountability and democratic control within the movement.
Grillo has rejected the offer of entering government with Bersani’s Democratic party, an offer that contained an agreement to initiate a number of the key reforms demanded by M5S.
Grillo stated that if Bersani and Berlusconi were now “converts to honesty”, they should form a government and demonstrate it.
Most M5S supporters want another election to “finish the job”. The current president, Napolitano, was due to leave office in May, but is now preparing to stay, as no successor is possible without a government in place. He will no doubt summon Mario Monti back once more to save the state from further implosion. The mighty arsenal of bourgeois propaganda is being unleashed to sow confusion and doubt on Grillo and his newly-elected “citizen” deputies.
The M5S’s success thus far rests on its campaign against the corrupt political establishment as a whole. Demands to cut their incomes drastically, raze to the ground their privileges, abolish public funds to all political parties, render transparent and accountable all political activity, disqualify owners of the media from political office...
These are just some of the measures which are, as far as they go, progressive reforms. But they have not gained the M5S overwhelming support from the working class, in millions still abstaining or backing Bersani via the orientation of the trade unions, especially the CGIL confederation. Worse, large swathes of the South, like Calabria, backed Berlusconi.
But the vast bulk of these are anti-austerity! They can be won! To overcome their doubts and reservations, M5S has to widen its demands, political, economic, and social. It must demand massive tax increases on the rich; nationalisation under workers’ control the poisonous steelworks at Taranto and other similar plants; an end to public funding to all church and private schools; increases in public funding for state schools, universities, hospitals etc.; an end to tax exemptions for church, business, and financial activity; an increased minimum wage and state-provided unemployment benefit; public ownership and democratic control of all businesses declaring mass redundancies.
It must also go beyond the net, to the workplaces, streets and squares, the hub of popular political life in Italy, and seek to bring back into struggle all the forces at the mercy of the hideousness of capitalist existence in Italy today.
No excuses for Grillo
Hugh Edwards (Solidarity 277, 27 February) is probably less enthusiastic about Beppe Grillo than some on the Europhobe left who adore Grillo’s demand for an immediate Italian exit from the Eurozone and return to the lira.
Socialist Worker describes Grillo’s Five Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, M5S) as “leftwing”, CPBers like Brian Denny rejoice in Italians’ apparent rejection of the Euro by voting for Berlusconi or Grillo and Counterfire members such as James Meadway compose longer and more elaborate intellectual apologias.
Nevertheless, I was shocked to find absolutely no mention of Grillo’s appalling racist stance on immigration, opposing citizenship rights for children of immigrants born in Italy, and his willingness to publicly consort with the neo-Nazis of Casa Pound (who, amongst numerous other violent actions, mounted a physical attack on an election candidate of the radical left Rivoluzione Civile in Lazio a few weeks ago) in Edwards’ article.
Grillo has also openly stated his desire to “wipe out” the trade unions and believes workers should be content with representatives on company boards — presumably in the manner of Mussolini’s 1930s corporate state, as CGIL leader Susanna Camusso rapidly pointed out.
Grillo’s demands for egalitarian anti-hierarchical transparency in public life would be more credible if M5S were not itself run in a totally top-down way.
Whilst it may be that the quotations from and images of Mussolini that Grillo recently used to back up anti-parliamentary rants on his blog are mere posturing and not part of a drift towards classical fascism, there can be no ambiguity in our own opposition to this right-wing demagogue, even when we need to understand why M5S got 37.9% of the under-30 vote, 54.8% of the student vote, and 41.1% of the unemployed vote. Xenophobic, racist, nationalist and semi-fascist answers to an international capitalist crisis must be firmly rejected and austerity fought on a Europe wide basis.
The partial success of the southern European general strike of 14 November 2012 shows how we can build a real fight back.
Another “new mood”
Socialist Worker (26 February) hailed the success in Italy’s recent general election of “the left wing, anti-corruption, Five Star Movement” of Beppe Grillo.
Revolutionary socialists in Italy do not agree that Grillo’s movement is “left-wing”. Franco Grisolia of the PCdL (Workers’ Communist Party) writes: “There is nothing to celebrate in this vote, which... expresses all the recent defeats and confusion in the labour movement and its vanguard”.
Grisolia concedes: “We know that there are contradictions, that some of the political personnel entering parliament today with the 5 Star Movement are not reactionary”.
But Grillo says that: “The unions are outdated. We no longer need them. We should do as the US does”.
The programme of Grillo’s movement has two main elements: denunciation of corruption, especially among politicians; and enthusiasm for the internet. One of its main demands is for free internet access for all.
It has a spread of other demands, some very detailed, the axis of which is a hope that smaller capitalist enterprise, using the internet and providing for shareholder participation, can clear away the congealed corruption of the Italian state and big business and make Italy “like other countries”.
Thus Grillo calls for: “Reduction of public debt with strong cost-cutting measures of the state by cutting waste and with the introduction of new technologies”; and the “abolition of monopolies, particularly Telecom Italy, Highways, ENI, ENEL, Mediaset, State Railways”.
Conservative commentators are not worried that Grillo’s electoral success will feed anti-capitalist mobilisations. Their chief worry is Grillo’s call for a referendum on Italian membership of the euro. Grillo, however, is not anti-EU.
He says: “We want to bring honest people to the head of our country. Just as it is in the rest of Europe, but not in Italy. I am a convinced European... I want a united Europe...”
Grisolia notes: “Grillo has repeatedly reaffirmed his position on immigration by declaring, in terms often used by the Northern League: ‘Italy can not take responsibility for the problems of the world’... he has spoken out against... the granting of citizenship to children of immigrants born in Italy”.
Grillo has flirted with the neo-fascist movement CasaPound.
To party politics Grillo counterposes his “movement” — in which, however, the only central authority is his own personal blog, run by computer businessman Gianroberto Casaleggio. There are no committees, conferences, or branches.
Italian Trotskyist Enrico Pellegrini comments: “The M5S is based on simple adherence to [Grillo’s] blog... The ‘new’ movement is only the will of a single man” and his inner circle.
Casaleggio, as a businessman, has had close links with the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy and the Aspen Institute think-tank, whose board members include Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, and Condoleezza Rice.
Socialist Worker’s demagogic hyping-up of miscellaneous “new moods of anger” — Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Grillo, you name it — is no service to working-class politics.
And it squares ill with SW’s sectarian dismissal of Syriza.
I think Toby Abse comment on my article of the 27 February ("No excuses for Grillo) is guilty of a certain selective attention to detail.
Yes, the article didn't mention Grillos racist utterances nor his invitation to a Casa Pound zealot to join 5 Star or any other of his reactionary nonsence. Why? Because it explicitly referred the reader to Toby's then current article in Solidarity recounting these and such other details, summarised by me as proof of the "profund crisis of the working class movement.....".
The thrust of both my recent pieces have been to emphasise the basic reasons behind the movement's success, especially among sections of the working class, which, in spite of all the limits of Grillo and his cronies, objectively, potentially, is opening up conditions where the dynamic of events may suddenly shift on an even greater scale from the electoral arena to society as a whole.
Martin Thomas draws attention to the significance of the novel features of contemporary "civil society", and the social media as a pre-eminent factor, the necessity to relate to that terrain and its manifestations, not as substitute but as vital to engage in the battle for ideas, programme and stratey for the workers movement as a whole.
The 5 Star Movement, warts and all so to speak, offers us precisely such a challenge. Saluting it uncritically or simply branding it as reactionary do neither. As Trotsky pointed out "he who believes that the process of social revolution is constituted by a schema where the mass of the workers are to be found on one side and reaction unequivocally on the other will never live to see it".