Article by Wu Ming
New updated version – translation by SII, copy-edited by Giulio Sica and Wu Ming 1
Translators’ note: The following text is a translation of a short article written by the Italian writers’ collective, Wu Ming, on the blog of Internazionale.it, while the ballot count was still ongoing. The original text can be found at this address, while this translation is also available on The Guardian. Further debate can be found on the authors’ blog, in a new post titled “Why we side with rebellion in the M5S.” A few days ago, we decided to provide an English translation of this short text, because it places the M5S in the context of global struggles, and also answers the thorny question “Why did a strong anti-capitalist movement, on the model of the Spanish #acampadas or the #Occupy protest, not emerge in Italy?”. The text reflects the views of its authors and is not meant to be an ‘objective’ statement.
Now that the Five Star Movement has made such an impression in the Italian national elections, we believe it is no longer possible to avoid examining this phenomenon in terms of a political vacuum that the movement, founded by Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio, fills with its presence. The M5S draws attention away from the fact that there is an absence of a true radical movement in Italy. The M5S takes up this empty space to ensure that this remains the case.
Despite its radical appearance and its revolutionary rhetoric, we believe that, over the past three years, the M5S has effectively defended the present system, acting as a force that has quelled rebellion and stabilised the system. Such a counterintuitive statement sounds absurd, if one only takes a superficial glance at Italian politics and society and looks no deeper. Really? Grillo, a stabilising factor? The man who wants to “send the old politics packing”? The man who, as everybody says, is going to make the country ungovernable? We believe that, over the past few years, Grillo’s movement has ensured that the system in Italy remains the same.
Over the past three years, while other countries around the Mediterranean and more generally in the west have seen movements that are fighting against austerity and neoliberalism gaining in strength and, in some cases, taking root, here in Italy this has not happened. There have been some important struggles, of course, but they have remained confined to local territories, or they did not last long. There have been small fires, but not a major blaze to set the whole political landscape alight, as has been the case elsewhere. No indignados in our country; no Occupy; no “springs” of any kind; no “Je lutte des classes” against reforms to the pension system. We have not had a Tahrir Square or a Syntagma Square; we have not had a Puerta del Sol. We did not rise up as others have done elsewhere and, in some cases, are still doing. Why not?
There are many reasons for this, but we would like to suggest one. Perhaps it is not the main factor but we believe it has importance.
Here in Italy, a large proportion of this “indignation” was intercepted and reorganised by Grillo and Casaleggio – two wealthy men in their 60s with a background in the entertainment industry and in marketing. They created a political/economic franchise, with its own copyright and trademark, a movement rigidly controlled and mobilised from the top, hijacking slogans and ideas from social movements, and mixing them with apologies for an “ethical” capitalism, with superficial statements centred on the honesty of the individual/politician/administrator. They created a confused set of proposals, where neoliberal and anti-capitalist, centralist and federalist, libertarian and reactionary could co-exist. A manifesto for all occasions, cherry-picking ideas wherever they found them and whenever they considered them useful, typical of a diversionary movement.
There is an important distinction to be made here between the M5S and truly radical movements: the M5S divides the world into “us” and “them” in a completely different way from the radical movements mentioned above. When the Occupy movement suggested a distinction between the 1% and the 99% in society, this was based on the distribution of wealth, going right to the root of social inequalities: the 1% are the multi-millionaires. Had they known Grillo, Occupy would have included him as well. In Italy, Grillo is part of the 1%.
When the Spanish movement takes up the Argentinian cacerolazos’s rallying cry: “Que se vayan todos!”, they are not simply referring to the “caste” of politicians, as happens in Italy, nor are they implicitly adding: “Let us take their place”. They are demanding the self-organisation and self-management of society: let’s do our very best without them, let’s invent new forms and ways, in our neighbourhoods, in the workplace, in our schools. None of these forms resembles the techno-fetishistic nonsense of Grillo’s movement, the mountains of rhetoric that create only molehills, such as the M5S’s mock “online primary elections”. In Spain, truly radical practices involve joining together to protect the excluded, for instance, by physically preventing evictions, home repossessions and so on.
The Spanish protesters would include Grillo and Casaleggio among those who “must leave” (a movement led by a multi-millionaire and a man who heads an internet marketing and advertising company that was directly involved in the campaign, would be inconceivable!). They would probably also include the M5S’s mayor of Parma, Federico Pizzarotti, who has been implementing austerity policies in Parma for months now, going back on his bombastic electoral promises, one after another.
A new phase is beginning now that “Grillism” has entered parliament, chosen as a last resort by millions of people who found all other political options either disgusting or unworthy of a vote. The only way to interpret the phase which is just beginning is to understand the role which Grillo and Casaleggio played in the phase just ending. Many believe they acted as arsonists; we believe they were actually firefighters.
Is it possible for a movement, born as a diversion, to become a radical force, addressing crucial problems and dividing “us” from “them” along true fault lines? To make it happen, something else must first occur. There has to be an Event which interrupts and cracks open the movement. In other words, Grillism should free itself from Grillo’s grip. So far, it has not happened and it is unlikely it will happen now. But it is not impossible. As usual, we side with “rebellion”. Even inside the M5S.