The ‘jaguar’ really did bite the backside of the Italian political caste writes Dave Kellaway. Beppe Grillo was flippantly caricatured as that wild cat by a patronising Italian media. After just three years of standing candidates this protest movement has just become the number one political party, outscoring the PD by just 0.1 per cent. A week ago Grillo was being vilified by Unità, the Partito Democratico (PD) daily newspaper as a populist who imitated the fascists’ slogans with his taunts to the political caste ‘Give up you are surrounded’ roared out by tens of thousands in squares throughout Italy. Today there are earnest articles by PD intellectuals analyzing how Grillo captured many militant trade unionist votes.
Several articles in the British media underestimated the radical anti-austerity dynamic of Grillo’s Five Stars Movement. Tom Foot in the Guardian used the term grillosconi lumping him with a right wing populist like Berlusconi and a Counterfire article defined him as far to the right. Most of the five demands (the five stars)are things the left supports such as for public ownership of water that the PD has been at best weak on. True he puts the unions in the same basket as the decrepit political caste and does not have a clear political alternative for working group people on austerity but we should not forget that the unions have more or less supported or tolerated Monti’s policies. He has also made soft comments on a fascist group called CasaPound and puts forward demands for small or medium sized businesses against the corporations. However many of his activists and some of its new MPs come from the mass movements which won the anti-water privatization referendum and there were speakers from the NoTav (movement of a whole mountain valley north of Turin against a high speed rail link) on the platform at their rallies. The PD has been a key backer of the rail project. Also when the PD say the M5S are anti-political because they say all the political parties are the same they have some cheek since the PD have been responsible to a large extent for.working people saying they are all the same because they have supported neo-liberal policies for decades now.
The M5S is a lot more than Grillo. The big unknown is how their hundred plus representatives will respond in parliament. Up to now they organized online and the whole operation is not very democratic and and depends on Grillo’s team making top down decisions. The establishment and big business is hoping that they can be brought into the framework of sensible management of austerity, or at least some of them. Bersani has already put up five propositions around reform of political parties and institutional changes to tempt them into an alliance or at least a non-aggression pact allowing him to govern like a minority government. Currently thc jaguar is not changing his spots and has said that there will be no alliance. Grillo may play the long game thinking new elections in a few months or even longer could allow him to win a majority on his own.
The winner loses
Paradoxically the formal winner of the election, Pier Luigi Bersani (pictured), is the big political loser. His campaign was complacent as he rested on the laurels of his successful primary campaign. He played the responsible premier in waiting, reassuring the markets and repeatedly saying there was a place for Monti in his cabinet. He inspired and galvanized nobody losing votes to Grillo and still worrying the right wing voters enough for them to see Berlusconi as a bulwark against the left. Bersani already faces rumblings in his own ranks with members suggesting the defeated primary candidate, the moderniser, Renzi, would have held up better against Grillo.
The other great loser was the troika and bankers’ favourite, ex-Goldman Sachs manager, Monti (no longer supermario in the Italian press). Everything was lined up to set up a Bersani/Monti government, it had been publicly endorsed by leading global troika leaders like Merkel. Unfortunately the bankers and neo-liberal leaders cannot yet buy the electorate and the Italian voters refused to play ball and voted, albiet in a confused way, against austerity. Monti never got the votes in the Senate to help the PD. Nevertheless unless there is a political alternative government or a new season of struggles Monti’s policies might still win out. There is talk from Berlusconi of a great national unity government ant there are many twists and turns to possibly come yet.
Despite losing millions of votes compared to last time Berlusconi did manage a minor miracle. His party was riven with infighting and he was submerged in sex scandals and other legal battles but through populist campaigning such as promising to pay back a housing tax and cut taxes generally he managed to remobilise his historic base and place himself as the stop Bersani candidate.
The left of PD list, that was not really left of it, failed to cross the threshold and so the remnants of Rifondazione did not get back into parliament which was their overriding priority rather than providing a platform for the class struggle left and the movements. Led by the Di Pietro retread, Ingroia, the. Civic Revolution slate was squeezed by Grillo’s radicalism and the pressure of the ‘effective’ vote being one for the PD. Ingroia was at one and the same time denouncing Bersani and pleading for a space in his future government.
Today it difficult to say whether this welcome crisis of bourgeois leadership, even if temporary, could provide some space for a renewal of struggle. Similarly does the M5S breakthrough in an ambiguous way provide some encouragement to an alternative to austerity. Like Berlusconi Grillo adopted a rather anti-European line but also suggested policies such as questioning the debt, nationalizing banks and providing a basic income for all those without work. How much of these demands Grillo’s movement will actually fight for is another question. What is certain is that getting neo-liberal policies safely implemented is not all straightforward for the national and European ruling class.