I was puzzled, and indeed rather shocked, by Hugh Edwards’ concluding paragraphs in his article “What is the 5 Star Movement” (Solidarity 277, 6 March) in which Hugh argues: “M5S has to widen its demands, political, economic and social”.
This makes the assumption that M5S is broadly analogous to a social democratic formation or perhaps a heavily bureaucratised trade union; in short, a body rooted in the workers’ movement on which we can place demands either in the hope of pushing it further left or, perhaps, in order to expose its leaders in the eyes of their own rank and file.
In the Italian context this tactic might be legitimate in relation to the CGIL, Rivoluzione Civile, SEL and, perhaps, even to the PD. M5S is not such a phenomenon.
Indeed Martin Thomas in “Another new mood” (Solidarity 277) brackets it with the reactionary Islamists arguing “demagogic hyping-up of miscellaneous ‘new moods of anger’ — Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Grillo, you name it — is no service to working-class politics”.
The dominance of M5S’s two leading figures, millionaire comedian Beppe Grillo and the rather mysterious businessman Gianroberto Casaleggio, who have been accused by the Italian news magazine Espresso of having links with off shore companies in the manner of Berlusconi and neither of whom are remotely left wing, make a nonsense of M5S’s horizontalist pretensions.
M5S has exploited a climate in which other more horizontalist social media-based phenomena — such as Popolo Viola and the campaigns against nuclear power and water privatisation and for rather more leftwing mayors in Milan, Naples and Palermo in May-June 2011 — did pull a large section of the younger generation, particularly in the large urban centres, to the left and counteract years of conditioning by Berlusconi’s television channels.
In contrast, Grillo only uses the web in a top down fashion, using his blog to issue virtual fatwas. He is not interested in negative feedback and ignored the clamour on the net for M5S to make a deal with the PD on a programmatic basis around Bersani’s “eight points” all of which are in M5S’s own programme and most of which are supportable, particularly the points about dealing with the “conflict of interests” (Berlusconi’s combination of a media monopoly with a major political role) and the need for a new, more serious, anti-corruption law.
Obviously the left needs to appeal to sections of M5S’s electorate , particularly workers, students and the unemployed, and it may well be that some of Grillo’s parliamentarians will break with him — the rebellion of about a dozen, mainly Sicilian and Southern, M5S senators who refused to take a neutral stance when faced with a stark choice between the former anti-Mafia magistrate Pietro Grasso and Berlusconi’s former Justice Minister Renato Schifani (a Sicilian who has on occasions been the object of judicial investigations into alleged Mafia connections) for the Presidency of the Senate is a hopeful sign. Grillo has talked about expelling them but seems to retreating from doing so.
However, to engage with M5S in the way Hugh suggests reminds me of the KPD at its very worst — episodes like the Schlageter line, the Berlin transport strike or the “red” referendum against the Social Democratic government of Prussia in 1932. “After Grillo, us” is not the way to go.