In his ‘tsunami’ election tour Grillo began to give voice to the deep discontent at economic crisis and austerity – Published on SocialistWorld.net CWI-CIT, March 23, 2013.
Comedian Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement have taken centre stage following Italy’s general election in February. It is the latest, dramatic manifestation of the widespread rejection of establishment politics. CHRISTINE THOMAS reports on this new political phenomenon … //
… A ‘movement’ not a party: … //
… Awash with corruption; … //
The corrupt political ‘caste’ and political system are the main targets of the movement. Grillo’s comedy routines have always had a political edge to them. In the 1980s, he railed against corrupt politicians. In 1986, he was banned from public TV after a joke about the then prime minister, Bettino Craxi, who eventually fled the country to avoid charges during the Tangentopoli scandal. Tangentopoli lifted the lid on a sewer of kickbacks and corruption spanning the political spectrum, leading to the collapse and disintegration of most of the main bourgeois parties. It was against this background of political crisis that Berlusconi was ushered to power, and the Northern League began to grow, both claiming to be ‘new’, ‘fresh’ untainted forces.
Now, once again, Italy is awash with corruption scandals, undermining virtually every institution from football to the Vatican. In an international corruption league table, Italy is ranked 72nd, below Botswana, Chad and Rwanda. At national and local level, politicians of all the establishment parties, including the Northern League, and in particular Berlusconi’s PDL, but also the PD, have been found guilty of, or are under investigation for, taking bribes to give favours to friends and family members, creaming off millions of euros of public funds to finance lavish lifestyles, and a myriad of other charges. The idea, already extremely widespread in society, that they have all got their snouts in the trough, that they are all thieves, has been reinforced by these latest scandals.
This partly explains the success of the grillini. Grillo uses revolutionary sounding phraseology about sweeping away the current MPs, parties and political system. This strikes a chord, especially with young people who hold the traditional parties in contempt and see no credible, mass left/anti-capitalist alternative among the existing parties and political formations. Fifty per cent of under 25s voted for the M5S (67% in Sicily), and 60% of students.
In reality, however, the movement is proposing not revolution but democratic reform of the existing political system. This would include cuts to parliamentary salaries and expenses – the grillini representatives will only take half of their salaries, possibly less. In Sicily, the remainder of their salaries has gone to help local micro-businesses. The M5S calls for a change in the electoral law, halving the number of MPs, and abolishing the state funding of political parties, etc. The money saved, it claims, would go towards financing the rest of the M5S programme. The remainder would be financed from scrapping military spending on wars in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
… Voicing deep discontent: … //
… An eclectic mix of policies: … //
… Conflicting pressures:
In the very short term, the movement is likely to grow both in terms of members and electoral support. But very quickly the political and organisational contradictions are likely to intensify, leading to its decline and fragmentation, especially if it enters or forms a government at national level. Some reforms will be possible. In Sicily, the grillinis have blocked the building of a controversial US satellite ground station, and the same could happen with the TAV. But the weakness of the Italian economy and the ongoing crisis mean that these reforms will be very limited. The movement will come under conflicting pressures from the capitalist class, on the one hand, demanding austerity and labour market ‘reform’ and, on the other, from the working- and middle-class people who voted for it in the hope of real political and economic change.
The limits of the M5S’s reformist policies and the methods of the movement can be seen in Parma, where the mayor, Federico Pizzarotti, is a grillino. As a legacy of the previous corrupt administration the mayor inherited a budget deficit of almost €1 billion. Already the administration has started to increase charges for local services and impose cuts ‘because the money isn’t there’. The grillini were elected in Parma partly in opposition to the building of a local incinerator which, they claimed, would go ahead ‘over their dead bodies’. The incinerator has now been activated and cannot be stopped, they say, because of the crippling compensation that would have to be paid.
There is no concept of building a mass campaign among local people to demand more money for local services from central government or to stop the incinerator. While individual councillors have recently begun to go to factories faced with closure, and individual members are involved in local environmental struggles, like that of the No TAV in Val di Susa, the main M5S campaign initiatives have been limited to the question of democratic political reform.
The absence of party structures in the M5S means a lack of accountability and democratic control over elected representatives, especially at a national level. The unrest among members in Emilia Romagna and the expulsion of two councillors, including the first ever elected M5S councillor, who criticised Grillo for undemocratic methods, is a foretaste of future rebellions against the political and organisational dominance of Grillo over the movement. Already, Grillo has threatened around ten to twelve senators with ‘consequences’ for the ‘betrayal’ of voting for the PD candidate (an anti-mafia magistrate) for president of the Senate, causing uproar among the movement’s members in blogland. As the political and organisational contradictions emerge this will open up space for discussion about the need for an anti-capitalist political party based on the workers’ movement and on struggle.
The M5S represents a new and important factor in a situation of political, economic and social crisis. An analysis and understanding of the character and the weaknesses of this movement is necessary but is not, in itself, sufficient. Those on the left in Italy need to engage politically with the grillini and their ideas and, most importantly, with those radicalised workers’ and youth who voted for them as part of the process of building a real working-class alternative to the capitalist system.
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