Italy: the day of reckoning

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013

As we got to press, the political stalemate that followed the Italian general election of 24-25 February shows no sign of being resolved. Beppe Grillo and his MoVimento 5 Stelle have so far refused to come to any agreement with the other political parties and form a government. This both reflects and compounds the divisions within the Italian ruling class and adds to the general sense of crisis within the Eurozone.

At the election, the centre-left coalition was able to garner 340 seats in the lower house with 29.5% of the votes, the Democratic Party taking 25.4%. Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party still managed to lure an impressive 21.6% of the voters despite years of sex scandals, cronyism and hide-and-seek with the judicial system. Overall, the ‘Teflon’ media tycoon’s centre-right coalition got 29.2% of the votes or 124 seats. The discrepancy in seats between the two coalitions is the product of a 2005 electoral law which gives extra seats to the winners. Former Prime Minister Mario Monti’s coalition could only muster 10.5% of the vote. Together, the Democratic Party, the People of Freedom Party and the neo-fascist Northern League lost 10.5 million votes compared to the 2008 general election.

However, the real victor was Grillo’s MoVimento. The polls before the elections greatly underestimated his support, and with 8.7 million votes and 25.6% of the electorate, MoVimento got more than any other single political party. Who are the ‘Grillini’ (the nickname given to the militants of the movement)? What do they stand for? Who do they represent? Firstly, they stand against austerity and against the programme of the Italian ruling class. They have given expression to a popular disgust with the corrupt and squalid Italian political set-up. They have managed this because there is no party or movement representing the working class. They do not represent a valid political alternative – Grillo does not address the real problem, capitalism. However, he has opened the eyes of the Italian people to new possibilities through his constant denunciations of the likes of Berlusconi and Monti.

The other questions are not easy to answer. One indication is that the current economic situation, combined with the Berlusconisation of Italian politics and culture, has led an entire generation of youths with few prospects to be deeply disillusioned by politics and by the entire Italian political class. This also in part explains the record level of abstentions – 27.5%, so that the turnout fell below 80% for the first time since the Second World War. The fact that nearly half the electorate either abstained or voted for Grillo demonstrates the degree of alienation of the Italian people from electoral politics.

There are several paradoxes with MoVimento. It does not see itself as a party; in fact in Grillo’s words it aims to ‘send the politicians home’. Playing an anti-politics card, then taking part in an election and then securing massive support now presents Grillo with some problems. First of all, the MoVimento has a weak structure. It is primarily based on social media like Twitter and Facebook and is quite averse to the concept of power. The second aspect of the problem is that by refusing to form a coalition and provide Italy with a government he is effectively giving a sign that Italy’s political system has run its course.

MoVimento describes itself as neither belonging to the right or to the left and it seems to have got support from both sides of the political spectrum. It has a distinctive petty bourgeois character. Many newly elected Grillini are either self-employed or employers. References to the working class, to class struggle or just workers’ rights are absent from Grillo’s speeches, except in so far as he polemicises against the three major trade unions (CGIL, CISL and UIL) or resorts to easy populist slogans about workers’ control of factories or companies.

MoVimento is now faced with stern reality. It either commits to being part of a government or accepts that there will be fresh general elections when it may find its support has evaporated. Either way, the working class will still lack real representation.

Dario Chiaradonna