Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
In recent years, Italian social movements have lived through two distinct phases. The first was characterised by strong political support, evident in the massive demonstrations that took place in Genova in 2001, or through widespread participation in the European Social Forum in Florence in 2002. Unfortunately, these colossal movements had their own weaknesses, particularly, that they were not yet solidly rooted within society and local communities.
The second phase saw social movements finally connecting with people and local areas, thanks to focused campaigns against the privatisation of water and other public goods. Numerous territorial campaigns have sprung up ever since, capable of mobilising entire communities. These include campaigns against the Vicenza military base, the development of high velocity trains (TAV) and incinerators, to mention a few. However, what brings most of these movements together is a mutual recognition that traditional tools of political representation have failed. Who decides the future of communities and their territories? Where are decisions made? These are the issues that truly concern new territorial movements, which are constantly looking for new models of participation.
Nowadays, we must also recognise that movements are severely fragmented. Although there is a mutual understanding that they will come to each other’s aid if necessary, this remains a defensive mechanism rather than one that encourages innovation. The fact that movements are under-represented within the media worsens this state of affairs, in a society where anything that exists outside the media isn’t even deemed real or taken into consideration. However, movements are not only lacking coordination and a constant exchange of ideas (on the topic of water, for example, a National Forum was organised to bring together all movements concerned with this issue) – what is really missing now, is the capacity to mobilise the masses, which, starting with Genova, had characterised the first phase.
The ‘Grillo’ Storm
Beppe Grillo seems to attract astonishingly vast audiences nowadays, particularly through his Internet blog. He and his massive following should be seen as an example of classical social movements. It resembles what Venezuelans call a ‘turba’, a swarm of people that suddenly aggregate around one topic, which, in this case, is the crisis of political representation. To a large extent, Grillo should be credited with building a widespread sense of unification around this particular issue as well as others, such as the relevance of environmental concerns in contemporary society.
The political elite in Italy imitates the mechanisms of large financial corporations: they might change name, but fundamentally they remain the same. The newly established PD and PDL (as well as La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno) are exact replicas of the structures defining last year’s political elite. I believe that soon this is likely to instigate a reaction from Grillo.
Unfortunately, Grillo proposes rather traditional solutions to the problems he identifies: he suggests we amend “classical” forms of representation instead of building channels that don’t yet exist or innovative political institutions that have yet to be discovered. We shouldn’t forget, however, that he does heavily criticise the ‘Veltrusconi’ phenomenon, an important problem facing Italian society. The latter, in simple terms, refers to a general trend towards hegemonic political thought. After all, don’t we already know who will win the Italian elections? Clearly it will either be Berlusconi’s ‘Veltronian’ programme or Veltroni’s ‘Berlusconian’ one.
La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno
For a long time we have continued to believe that a new political project for the left was possible, capable of being unified and radical, while still being vast. Unfortunately, the ways in which this project is currently taking shape are outdated and disappointing, meaning we are losing out on a great opportunity. As a result, it will also make the alliance of La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno very fragile after the April elections. Perhaps, the plans of La Sinistra – L’Arcobaleno will be short lived, but I see no alternatives. I see no point in either abstaining or in giving a strategic vote to the PD. Instead, I will vote Arcobaleno, not so much for what it is today, but for what it might become in the future. Leaving the doors open for an alternative, somewhere down the line, is the least we can do.
A broken society: fear and longing for quick decisions
At the moment, I see Italian society as being split right down the middle. On one hand, there is a small minority who still yearns for new forms of democratic representation. On the other, however, an overwhelming portion of society has reacted to the rising political insecurity by demanding order, discipline and a tough leadership. There is a craving for authoritarian forms of democracy that will be capable of making fast decisions. This split is increasingly evident and directly related to growing fears and insecurity.
Our society, which is becoming more individualistic and competitive (rather than ‘social’ and ‘cooperative’), has seen most people opting for the easiest path. Instead of asking for schools and hospitals, people are demanding for police and prisons. It is a scenario where people would rather see the poor being eliminated, instead of poverty itself. Unfortunately, this context will lead to more misery, insecurity and isolation, which in turn will encourage people to demand for even more safety and order, falling victim to a terrible vicious circle.
Currently, we run the dangerous risk of creating a negative mass consensus. The only way to balance out this trend is to ensure that the left acts at a social level, by proposing truly innovative, as well as inclusive practices. We must take action before people are pushed to choose order and safety over civil rights and public services.
Tommaso Fattori is Coordinator of Forum Italiano dei Movimenti per l’Acqua, against the privatisation of water and other public services.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going