Beppe Grillo speaks to his supporters in San Giovanni square
Coalition government negotiations in chaos. A president’s mandate about to expire. Even the pope has quit! Disorder reigns in Italy. No one knows what will happen now.
Will there be new elections? The need for a new president doesn’t allow that immediately – in fact parliament is supposed to elect a new president by April. Could there be a grand coalition of the centre-left and the right? The centre-left says absolutely not. A minority centre-left government? The president says no.
So far it’s not even known whether the president will give Bersani, the leader of the centre-left coalition, a mandate to try to form a government – the natural first step – or whether he will succeed in winning a confidence vote in parliament.
But let’s put aside the chaos of the institutional architecture for the moment and look at what happened in the elections. Many, including within the almost-silent movements, consider them to have been historic, even revolutionary! In particular they are referring to Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which is in reality run by internet ‘enterpreneur’ Gianroberto Casaleggio.
Five Star swept up the votes of more than eight million citizens, and filled the huge San Giovanni square with an estimated 800,000 people as the finale of their election campaign. Their ‘anti-politics’ has become the biggest single political actor.
This wasn’t what they expected. Up until around a month before the elections, everyone thought the right wing (and Berlusconi in particular) were more or less done for. But Berlusconi became the leader of the right once again, and easily beat the ‘clean’ borgeoisie of Mario Monti, who could only manage 10 per cent of the vote.
This shows that Monti’s technocratic austerity policies have no support at all among the vast majority of citizens, whether they are workers, young people or pensioners. Berlusconi on the other hand still speaks for a section of society – the section who think that inequality and privilege are principles worth defending! Corrupt populism is still a winner for the right wing.
Meanwhile, something strange happened in the far right Northern League’s results. Their vote was cut in half compared to 2008, from 8 per cent to 4 per cent, yet they won the presidency of Lombardia region and now control the three biggest regions in the north of Italy. They are loudly declaring their mantra of ‘separation’ from the rest of the country, trying to capture the north as a centre of power in opposition to the national government.
For the centre-left the result was a shock. The centre-left coalition came first in terms of overall votes cast, yet it was the biggest loser, because it has no majority in the senate and therefore no way of forming a government. All this while its voting base – millions of working class people – is being hammered by austerity policies. How did this happen?
There is no shortage of factors. The centre-left made the huge mistake, for example, of talking about an alliance with Monti after the election even while it was criticising his austerity policies. More generally it underestimated the social situation and the feelings provoked by the crisis, it underestimated Berlusconi’s various social promises, and it underestimated Beppe Grillo’s call to resist the ‘political caste’.
On the other hand, the left (Civil Revolution) remains invisible and insignificant, both in parliament and in society, getting just 2 per cent of the vote. The Italian squares are instead filled with Grillo fans, the ‘new movement’, picking up the slogans and issues of the social movements while declaring the death of the distinction between right and left.
Before they voted for the Five Star Movement, 32 per cent of its voters backed the right and 22 per cent backed the centre-left. This is an eclectic political and social mix, ranging from workers to small businesspeople, from unemployed people to professionals. They claim to be ‘horizontal’ and creating a web-based direct democracy, but are obliged to follow the edicts of their leader Grillo.
One young Grillo supporter started a web petition and in a few hours collected 150,000 signatures to say the Five Star Movement should support the confidence vote in a possible centre-left led government. Grillo immediately denounced her as an ‘infiltrator’.
The strongest glue that keeps the ‘Grillini’ together is the attractive mantra against the ‘caste’ of the politicians, who are invited to ‘go home’, told to ‘surrender’, that ‘enough is enough’ – this is their basis, far from being any kind of social movement. But what of the existing social movements? They are fragmented and weak, yes, but very different from the Five Star Movement.
A debate has begun about how much responsibility the social movements in Italy bear for the current situation. That is part of a discussion that has already started at European level, more pushed by the rise of the extreme right. The case of Grillo is quite different, but provoked by the same social crisis.
Here we come to the question of the failure of the ‘Genoa movements’, both in terms of an inability to win results but also when it came to keeping their independence from political parties. In Italy we did not have the ‘second generation’ social movements – like the indignados in Spain or Occupy – and it is not entirely clear why. It might be because of the level of social control and representation by the trade unions (namely CGIL, FIOM, COBAS). It’s not that people aren’t completely exasperated by the impact of the crisis and the increasing corruption of politics, but that the Five Star Movement was able to collect this feeling of rage. CGIL has to think seriously about its policy – it was supportive of Monti at the beginning, and in the electoral campaign backed the centre-left. Hopefully a debate will also start there.
As the radical leftist Italian writers’ collective Wu Ming has said, the Five Star Movement has ‘set the political energies of a revolt against austerity in a discourse-cage that is a parody of political conflict’. Instead of grassroots movement we have a party managed by a ‘sectarian-business’ organisation – Casaleggio and co – with the symbolic leadership of a comedian. They argue that Five Star’s ‘radicalism’ is channelling dissent away from genuine radical movements in Italy.
Are they right or wrong? It is difficult to say. One good thing does have to be mentioned in this election result though – the will for change did prevail, and the evidence is in the composition of the new parliament. There are many more women and young people – the average age decreased from 50 to 45 and the proportion of women jumped from 20 percent to 30 percent. 60 per cent of the parliament are ‘new faces’.
The big question is whether this ‘human change’ will be able to bring any radical change in the politics and the policies. We will see.
Alessandra Mecozzi is an Italian trade unionist, feminist and activist
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant