Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Italian Elections: The Great Five-Star Surprise

Nearly definitive results of the Italian national elections of March 4, 2018. the "five-star movement" (M5s) got the most votes, although the center-right wing coalition (CDX) has the largest number of seats in the Italian parliament. For the center-left (CSX), it was a total disaster. So, what made the M5s party so successful: my impression is that their mode of functioning could be described as  "government by Facebook, for Facebook, in the name of Facebook." Is it our political future?

In several senses, it is not difficult to understand the results of the recent Italian elections. Think of the center-right leader, Mr. Berlusconi, as an older Mr. Trump. At nearly 82, Mr. Berlusconi still tries to play the role of the alpha-male while his acolytes built up a program based on building a barrier against immigrants (not exactly a wall, because there is a sea in between Italy and Africa, but the concept is the same.). The center-right is also pursuing policies akin to "making Italy great again" (or perhaps grate again, if they were referring to Parmesan cheese). In short, the Italian right and the American right are very similar, including such details as allowing citizens to carry firearms.

The left - what remains of it - is represented by Mr. Matteo Renzi, the perfect equivalent of Ms. Clinton, in terms of being both hateful and out of touch with reality. Just like Ms. Clinton, Mr. Renzi and his followers managed to conduct an unbelievably obsolete and counterproductive campaign. The left carefully avoided any references to new ideas or - God forbid! - ideas that could be understood as being "leftist". During the campaign, they gave the impression of being completely dominated by the right, desperately trying to tell voters that they would do the same things that the right was proposing, just with a little extra human touch - maybe. One wonders whether Mr. Renzi was actually paid for the job of finishing off the remnants of the Italian left. It was a necessary outcome anyway, the only surprise was how well the Italian left played the role assigned by the Gods to those whom they want to destroy - that is, of becoming crazy. (at least, however, so far the Italian Dems didn't blame Putin for their defeat(*).)

But how about the "five-star" movement? Who are they? Why did they win? For sure, there is no equivalent of the M5s in the US or anywhere in the West - so far. Their strong point, it seems, was the obsolescence of the traditional political parties. Politicians are widely perceived as thieves and, perhaps worse than that, they are deeply embedded and compromised with the "system."

In the US, the "system" is mainly represented by the military-industrial complex, pushing for more and more money for more and more useless wars overseas. In Italy, there is less emphasis on the military system, but the government is surely embedded with this and other traditional power centers, including the oil and gas industry. Otherwise, how would you explain that the Renzi government engaged in the destruction of the Italian renewable energy industry, killing tens of thousands of jobs? Do this and more idiocies, and eventually, the people will remember that and punish you, if they can.

In the end, Italians seem to have reasoned that their political system is so deeply corrupt to be unrecoverable, at least in terms of the traditional political forces (e.g. the left). So, they rewarded a force claiming to be composed of honest citizens - in a way amateurs rather than professional politicians. And the M5s movement won despite the concerted effort of both the Left and the Right to defame them.

My impression, however, is that there is more than that. The M5s movement may be the harbinger of things to come.Maybe the M5s success will turn out to be short-lived. But the great intuition of the founders of the M5s movement (Beppe Grillo and Roberto Casaleggio) that social media are destined to become more and more important. And that not just as tools for politics. Social media are becoming politics.

If you look at how the M5s movement works, you see that it is unlike anything you would call a "political party." I could say it looks like more like a version of Facebook. No leaders, no plans, no ideology, just a general idea that a networked group of people debate to find the best solutions for the problems we face. It seems to work - it is a new way to manage the system.

Government by Facebook, in the name of Facebook, for Facebook? Maybe.

*Note added on March 9: As we might have expected, Putin has been accused to have meddled in the Italian elections. The task fell on Samantha Power, former UN envoy during the Obama administration, presently in the midst of a scandal involving abusing her of power when she was at the UN. I don'think anyone took that seriously on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Power's tweet was ignored by the American press and ridiculed in the Italian press in the rare cases when it was considered worth of attention.


  1. …Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
    …The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity
    …what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

    Yeats was no prophet, but he expressed an angst that fits today.

    By the way, Dr Bardi, your remark about the US Left blaming Trump's electoral victory on the Poot is devoid of much except snide snark.

    1. It rang true to me. The Democrats seem to have become the neocon party - devoid of any attraction at all to the average person - in a way they are to blame for the Trump presidency (far more than Putin).

    2. The remark about the circus that is "Russiagate" is plainly true for anyone not brainwashed by the constant propaganda served up by the mainstream media in the U.S. over the course of the last year or so.
      The rest of the world just looks at you folks in despair at how gullible you are to believe this blatant misdirection / McCarty-ist witch hunt.
      (And also in mild anger at the rank hypocrisy of U.S. citizens - of all countries - to get all outraged about another country trying to influence their elections in even a minor way. What do you think the CIA and Foreign Department are doing all the time? And not just decades ago. Everyone knows the U.S. caused the recent war in Ukraine, destroyed Libya after supporting jihadists "protesters" in the Arab Spring, just organised a coup in Honduras, and currently supports the right-wing opposition in Venezuela in order to drive that country into all-out civil war because socialist governments may not ever be allowed to exist, no matter what the majority of the people in the country want.)

  2. Italy has often been the place of political innovation, so I try to figure out what to learn from this - and have no clue!

  3. Are there any theories as to who the real backers of 5-star might be? Or am I being too cynical?

    In Spain, Podemos which is genuinely radical and Left, is falling apart internally, and the Francoists have come back with their own party - 'Citizens'.

  4. I hope the M5S social platform way of disussing things will work, but I am a bit skeptical. The situation is what described by Ugo, no plans, no projects, just ideas discussed at the moment. So we have a strong push for renewables, but at the same time their economy plan is to have a 5% GDP growth rate (how?) so the GDP/debt ratio stays low. They notably were the only party with some environmental concern NOT to sign a document by Italian climatologists on AGW. They don't have a policy about research, too many opposed views. They favoured a few civil right initiatives, but were against others. They were against the compulsory immunization program, but when they realized that this was the opinion of a very active fringe of the movement they backed and virtually no anti-vax activist is among the neo elected. They refused to take side on the immigration problem, either way they would have lost a bigh chunk of their supporters.

    They were voted mainly because they are perceived "new", outside the system, by very different people, from almost fascists to many left wing activists deluded (for the reasons Ugo explained) by Renzi. And by many people with strange ideas. Including good ones, but not necessarily.

  5. How is possible to call Renzi, "left"? On which planet?

    1. When there is no real left the centre gets called "the left".

      It's the same delusions most Americans have - they keep calling liberals / the Democratic party "the left" when they are clearly centre-right by any objective analysis.

  6. There is no more "left". It disappeared in seventies. I am not left and never was. Left is now only an utopia. But I always understood the need for "left". Some of my favorite film directors were "left". Elio Petri's "Indagine..." with Gian-Maria Volonte is the only film that I saw two consecutive shows in movie theater. (I've seen more than five thousand films in movie theaters, not counting films seen on TV). I first saw it when I was around ten years old on TV. I was fascinated. I always understood leftists but I was never leftist myself.

    I also recommend to the readers of this blog Francesco Rosi's "Cadaveri Eccellenti" with Lino Ventura.

    It is impossible to imagine that such films were made anywhere else but in Italy.

  7. Surprisingly, the terms "left" and "right" go back until the revolution in France. See Wikipedia and others. The right stood for order and tradition, the left for movement and equality. From a physicists point of view, the connection of order with inequality is interesting.
    But there is actually a new "left" all-european movement in the making, I mean "Democracy in Europe - Movement 2015" (DiEM25.org), starring Yannis Varoufakis, who is a very spirited, vivid and eloquent man. I F they one day play some role, there would be a genuine European party, not a collection of more or less related national parties. I appreciate this. Varoufakis has shown to be an opponent to TINA (there is no alternative), with a dash of anarchism. He had a very unrewarding task, to try and do damage containment after decades of casualness. We'll see what comes out.

  8. "at least, however, so far the Italian Dems didn't blame Putin for their defeat."
    ahhahha fantastic!

  9. Let see which party is the first to renege. Guaranteed basic income and better pensions is a tall order.

  10. Marino Badiale had an interesting definition of the Left in Italy: it basically focuses, not on ideas, but on the interests and instincts of what he calls "ceto intellettuale subalterno", the "intellectual underling class".

    Imagine a forty year old with a PhD, no real job yet, hair just beginning to grey.

    He basically lives off of his parents, and has just back from an underpaid three months studying some abstruse specialty in Berlin.

    He hopes to get a thousand-euro-a-month grant for half a year in Amsterdam.

    A vague idea of getting married, but his fiancée has just found a two-month job at the other end of Italy, so this year it won't work out.

    Lives in a good neighbourhood thanks to his parents, no competition on the job from immigrants, so he thinks people who criticise immigration are all necessarily racists.

    A very abstract intellectual approach to politics based on principles, never needed to get his hands dirty with compromises, so tends to be judgmental towards others, and holds on to his university degree like a baron used to hold on to his title.

    Such people may be quite "leftist" theoretically (equal rights for everybody, no borders, etc.) but will largely tend to support Renzi's party in the end.

  11. Ugo
    Can you interpret for us this slogan at the 5 star website?
    "Stop al business dell’immigrazione"


    1. Generic invocations of better management, control of the fluxes of immigrants, crackdown on the various mafias that control it at present

  12. Doesn't sound all that different from what the Pirate Party tried to do in Germany a few years back. And that turned out to be a flash in the pan, because arriving at consensus decisions by involving the entire party membership through online tools takes WAY too much time, and leads to a lot of infighting - especially if the original party goals are so vague or one-issue (internet privacy in case of the Pirates) that initially a lot of people with vastly differing opinions on major things like economic paradigms will join. (Also, somehow these technocratic youngsters had even less female members than the Christian right, and the few female politicians they got (switching to them for example from the Greens) largely left again in disappointment, because apparently there was an internal preference for putting men in the few seats they got.)

    And apparently the Greens were very base-democratic as well, back in the day (70s/80s - they were founded out of the whole 1968 protest movement). Not anymore, though - partly because idealistic students grow up and either drop out of politics to pursue their career, or they become ambitious professional politicians. These days, the Greens are almost as hierarchical as any other party, which is why some of their younger members switched to the Pirates in the first place.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)