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Grillo: Both near and far from the indignados


By Donatella della Porta

Italy’s elections certainly did not produce the best possible outcome, but nor, for the anti-austerity cause, did they produce the worst. Two other results would certainly have been much more risky.

One, a very close victory for the Right, with or without Monti, would have brought continuity in policies reducing social rights and the work by the Silvio Berlusconi PDL government that migrated to the ‘technical’ government led by Mario Monti, and backed by a ‘grand coalition’ of Berlusconi and Bersani’s centre left’s Democrats. This election result would surely have led to street protests with many uncertain results.

Another result, that would certainly have been worse than the one we have before us, would have been a possible majority of the Democrats and Monti, which would again have represented continuity with the previous government in terms of ultra-neoliberal policies, and the loss of potential allies (unions and progressive civil society organizations) through protest.

It is said that a few days before the start of the Indignados protest in Spain the following joke circulated, “But the Greeks what are they doing, sleeping?”. Then, after the Greeks awoke, the joke was: “But the Italians what are they doing, sleeping?” And the Italians did not seem to have woken up.

But in fact, 2011 was another year of protests in Italy, kicking off with the start of the Monti-Democrats-PDL, however, the protests, while frequent, remained fragmented. The lie of a “technical government”, and the reality of a neo-liberal government backed by the centre-left, has in fact contributed to silence and discourage the development of large [protest] movements. Although fragmented, there have been protests that have had positive effects, however, creating a broad consensus, and reflected in the election results, around the idea that austerity policies are not good but very bad for the country and citizens. The fact that the outgoing Prime Minister is the big loser in the elections, but also the loss of half of the PDL electorate and that of the Democratic Party testifies to a rejection of the policies of recent years. The massive vote for the Five Star Movement confirms this rejection.

In the movement’s programme, themes such as the minimum wage, cancellation of pointless infrastructure works and the fight the corruption that reveals the increasingly apparent overlap of political power and economic wealth, are very loud and clear. The Five Star Movement also took up another central theme of the protests of recent months: the concern about policies that are based not seeking public confidence, but the confidence of markets, which was a constant theme of former premier Monti. Direct democracy promoted by the Five Star Movement is a call for another type of politics, a politics centred on public engagement. It’s a conception of democracy that is difficult to implement, that only partially takes into account the processing and practices of social movements that, from the social forums onwards, have introduced the concepts of participatory democracy, practices of consensus and dialogue rather than majority decision-making. It’s also a view that contrasts with the dominant presence of a leader, who is very confident in the use of new technologies that can facilitate, but also hinder, democratic decision-making.

As in the movement of the indignados in Spain, or Occupy in the United States, the direct democracy championed by Grillo and the Five Star Movement is also a very horizontal and networked concept, often coming into tension with the practices of groups, associations, organizations and movements. The Five Star Movement in parliament will include many citizen-activists who, although they have often engaged in many local protests, have not always followed the processes of socialization and recognition of typical movements of the left. This also means potential problems in speaking, getting to know each other, and finding common solutions. But there is also the need for movements, which have in the past defended with conviction the positive value of diversity, to start a dialogue from the bottom up to turn challenges into opportunities for another policy to be developed in the streets, but even in a parliament where the ideas and practices of the movements are now much more prevalent than in the past.

Donatella della Porta is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute and has directed the Demos project, devoted to the analysis of conceptions and practices of democracy in social movements in six European countries.

Translation by Revolting Europe


About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope


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