SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 168 May 2013

The politics of Beppe Grillo

The article by Christine Thomas (Italy’s Clowns: No Joke for Establishment Parties, Socialism Today No.167, April 2013) on Beppo Grillo and the Five Star Movement (M5S) quite rightly raises the question of fascism which I believe warrants further consideration.

Some eight million voters reveal the deep discontent with the crushing austerity inflicted by Monti, however Grillo seems intent on using this to secure power for himself. His refusal to form an alliance is not unlike the position adopted after the July 1932 elections by Hitler who, of course, wanted power for himself. Like a young Mussolini, Grillo claims to transcend the left/right dichotomy. His middle-class base, his willingness to work with CasaPound, and plans to completely wipe out ‘corrupt’ labour unions are all reminiscent of fascism. In one of his most infamous blog posts, Grillo demanded that "tens of thousands of public employees [be] laid off". One of Grillo’s MPs, Roberta Lombardi, is quoted as saying: "Before it degenerated, fascism had a sense of national community (which it took directly from socialism), the highest respect for the state, and the will to protect the family". After press outrage, of course, she had to backtrack on her comments.

Unlike socialists, who base themselves firmly in the labour movement, M5S is organised on the basis of isolated ‘grillini’ at their computers. Despite claims for net roots democracy there is very little actual internal democracy. Faced with recent criticism following a Senate presidency vote, overnight over 2,000 critical posts were removed. Further authoritarian streaks can be seen in Grillo’s tight control over media appearances: for example, only giving interviews to foreign media.

Who is supporting Grillo internationally? Recently, the US ambassador, David Thorne, told a group of students in Rome that Grillo and M5S were Washington’s preferred alternative. Washington certainly does not want a party that could pose any real threat to the financial oligarchy. Do they see Grillo as a way to attack parliamentary democracy in Italy? This is consistent with Grillo’s main target of political corruption and his calls to sweep away the old political system.

Further support for Grillo comes from the boss of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Jim O’Neill (who coined the acronym PIIGS), calling M5S a "fresh policy approach". Socialist historians will recall that finance capitalists were one of the main backers of Hitler and Mussolini. Bankers view the continuing political crisis in Italy as an opportunity for asset stripping on the scale currently taking place in Greece. Using credit default swaps (toxic derivatives), they are currently betting against Italian government debt.

Grillo’s close relationship to Giancarlo Casaleggio, and the consulting firm Casaleggio Associates, is also rather suspect. One of the partners, Enrico Sassoon, was a member of the Aspen Institute of Italy, a notorious neo-conservative think-tank. Grillo, a multimillionaire himself, is unlikely to be able to continue to channel the anger against austerity for long. Already there are signs of a growing awareness that Grillo is a tool for the destabilisation of Italy, playing a key role in creating a political vacuum.

His role has been to direct the real anger from the banks and the grip on Europe held by the big financial institutions. As Grillo comes to be seen increasingly as positing himself as a new ‘Il Duce’, it’s entirely possible his support could vanish as quickly as it appeared. However, whatever the fate of Beppe Grillo, expect to see more of his ilk as the current capitalist crisis continues to develop.

Jo Murphy

Quotes from: Beppe Grillo Leads Yet Another Right-Wing Cult From Italy (New Statesman website, 8 March)

Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page