According to the Wu Ming collective, the electoral success of Grillo’s web-based Five Star Movement just covers up the vacuum of Italian social movements.
Editor’s note: In what amounts to a massive shock for the Italian and European elite, the anti-establishment Movimento Cinque Stelle led by populist comedian Beppe Grillo won nearly a quarter of all votes in this week’s Italian elections. In this article, the Bologna-based writers’ collective Wu Ming responds to the mainstream media’s interpretation of Grillo’s electoral success as a ‘radical repudiation of austerity’, and argues that Grillo is in fact instrumental in protecting the Italian status quo.
Now that the Five Star Movement (M5S) has achieved its unprecedented success in the Italian elections, we believe it is no longer possible to avoid examining the political vacuum that Grillo and Casaleggio’s movement represents. The M5S fills the absence of radical movements in Italy. M5S occupies an empty space in the political system… in order to keep it empty.
Despite its radical appearance and its revolutionary rhetoric, we believe that in recent years the M5S has been an efficient defender of the current status quo, a force that has served as a ‘cap’ and has ultimately been used to stabilize the system. This statement is counter-intuitive and at a superficial glance it even sounds absurd, especially if one focuses exclusively on Italy. How can Grillo be a stabilizing factor? He who wants to ‘sweep away the old political system’? He who is commonly known to be the greatest factor in making Italy ungovernable?
Yet, we believe that Grillo has ensured the maintenance of the system, willingly or not.
Over the past three years, while several Mediterranean countries and the West have witnessed the unequivocal expansion of anti-austerity and anti-capitalist movements, nothing comparable has taken place in Italy. There have been some important struggles, but these only lasted a short while and remained confined within restricted territories. There have been small fires but no major spark ignited the prairie, as has occurred elsewhere. No indignados for us; no #Occupy, no ‘spring’ of any kind, no ‘Je lutte des classes’ against pension reforms.
We did not have a Tahrir Square, a Puerta del Sol, or a Syntagma Square. We have not fought the way others have fought — and in some cases are still fighting — elsewhere. Why is that?
There are several reasons for this, but today we will only hypothesize one of them. Perhaps it is not the main factor, but we believe it holds some relevance.
In Italy, a large share of the ‘indignation’ was intercepted and organized by Grillo and Casaleggio — two wealthy baby-boomers from the entertainment and marketing industries — who created a political franchise/company with its own copyrights and trademarks. Their ‘movement’ is strictly controlled and mobilized by a hierarchy that picks up and repeats claims and slogans of social movements, but actually blends it with apologies of ‘healthy’ capitalism and with a superficial discourse focusing on the honesty of the politician and the public administrator. Liberal and anti-liberal, centralist and federalist, libertarian and conservative proposals all co-exist to create a confusing program: a ‘one-size-fits-all’ program that is typical of any political ‘diversion’.
Think about it: the M5S separates the world between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in a completely different way from other radical movements mentioned above.
When #Occupy proposed the separation between the 1% and the 99%, it referred to the distribution of wealth, deeply reflecting the problem of social inequality: the 1% are the multi-millionaires. Had they known Grillo, the #Occupy supporters would have included him in there. In Italy, Grillo is part of the 1%.
When the Spanish protestors take up the cry of the Argentine cacerolazos, ‘Que se vayan todos!’, they do not simply refer to the ‘political caste’, nor do they aim to replace them. They are calling for self-organization and the autonomous re-organization of society. Let’s try to do as much as possible without them, create new alternatives in neighborhoods, workplaces and universities. None of their new forms resembles the technological, fetishistic compromises of Grillo’s movement, such as the petty rhetoric of the online ‘parliamentary elections’. Their practices are radical, they entail organizing communities in order to protect them, by physically preventing evictions and foreclosures, for instance.
The Spaniards would also include Grillo and Casaleggio among those who ‘have to go’. A movement led by a multi-millionaire and a PR consultant would be simply inconceivable. They would probably also include Pizzarotti – the same M5S representative who has led the austerity policies in Parma for a few months now, and who is belying his bombastic electoral promises, one after another.
A new phase begins, one in which ‘Grillismo’ is entering the Parliament, chosen as a last resort by millions of people who were understandably fed up with all the other political options. The only way to understand the phase that is just beginning is to understand the role of Grillo and Casaleggio in the political phase just ending. Many believe they acted as ‘arsonists’ of the system; we believe they were actually its ‘firefighters.’
Is it possible for a movement born as a diversion to become a radical force, addressing crucial problems and distinguishing ‘us’ from ‘them’ along legitimate fault lines? It could happen, but there are some prerequisites. There needs to be some Event, opening a rift or a crack (even better, cracks) inside that movement. In other words: the movement should free itself from Grillo’s grip. It has not happened so far, and is unlikely to happen in the future. It is not impossible, though. We, as always, support revolt. Even within the Five Star Movement.