Wu Ming’s interview “Beppe Grillo lives on the ruins of the movements"

This is an interview by Roberto Ciccarelli, whom we thank, and it appears in today’s (Friday’s) issue of “Il Manifesto”. We couldn’t be more clear and straightforward than this. It synthesises what we think about the Movimento 5 Stelle (henceforth M5S) and about its relation to the crisis/absence of social movements.

Submitted by StrugglesInItaly on March 3, 2013

This interview by Roberto Ciccarelli appeared on Il manifesto and on Wu Ming Foundation’s blog, Giap.

Beppe Grillo’s strategy is a diversionary one. It pushes the “indignation”, so praised during the Spanish acampadas or American Occupy movements, away from Italian piazzas. The more vicious the crisis becomes, the more the outbursts of resentment are brought together in one convenient format: the blog of the 5-Stelle Leader, which spurs on Jacobin justicialism against the so-called caste and its different masks.

According to Wu Ming (the five-writer collective and authors of Q – as Luther Blisset – 54 and Altai), M5S has confined the potential energies of an uprising against austerity to a discursive cage which makes a parody of political conflict, leaving its administration to a “sectarian business organisation” (Casaleggio&Associati) and to the symbolic guidance of Beppe Grillo. According to them, the five-star radicalism “administers the absence of radical movements in Italy”. This thesis, strongly outlined in an article published on Internazionale’s website, was subsequently expanded on “Giap”, Wu Ming’s influential blog. It interrupts the Italian movements’ stunned silence over the last decade, from Genoa’s G8 to the campaigns for common goods.

RC: You say that Grillo is not an arsonist but a firefighter, because he systematically occupies the social movements’ discursive space: No-TAV, water as a common good, school and university, income. And that he then places it in a framework that you define as “right-wing”. Can you explain what that means?

WM: The birth of “Grillismo” is a consequence of the crisis in the global justice movements which began about ten years ago. Little by little, as that river was drying up, Grillismo started to flow over the old river bed. In the early years, the liquids were still mixed together. This prevented one from seeing what was working in the mixture, beyond weakening some of the stench. Subsequently, the turbulent growth of M5S has itself become a cause – or at least an important concurrent cause – of the absence of radical movements in Italy, due to its systematic ”capturing” of local struggles, especially the more “photogenic” ones. There is no single “civic” struggle for which M5S hasn’t taken credit, describing itself as the sole protagonist of each one. Themes, claims and rallying cries have been co-opted and re-inflected into a confused and classic “either-or” proposal, which is presented as beyond both the left and right. It’s an argument that accumulates more and more contradictions, because it draws together both ultraliberalism and the defence of common goods, the rhetoric of direct democracy and a Grillocentric “boss-principle”, support for the No-TAV struggle (characterised by civil disobedience) and crude legalitarianism that confuses ethics with avoiding legal convictions. This last feature was already clear on the first V Day (where the V stands for “vaffanculo”, “fuck you”), when, from the stage, Grillo equated Daniele Farina (an activist at Leoncavallo, a well-known leftist squatters’ centre in Milan) with those suspected of mafia involvement, just because she had also been “convicted”. This certainly smells of right-wing culture, but it is Grillo’s telling of the story of Italy which is even more right-wing.

RC: So, what is Grillo’s version of the story?

WM: There is an “Honest People” (assumed to be undivided from within, no classes, no opposing interests) and there is a “Corrupt Caste”, described as external to the “People”. In order to solve Italy’s problems, it is necessary to elect “honest people”, who won’t make “right-wing decisions” or “left-wing decisions”, but “fair” decisions. Here, Grillo’s rhetoric is similar to that of the much-despised Monti government: issues are technical, not political. This is a simplistic and comforting framework, which removes contradictions, doesn’t deal with the causes of the crisis and which offers easy-to-recognise enemies.

RC: But why is M5S gathering an enormous consensus at present, even among left-wingers and activists of previous movements?

WM: If Grillo and Casaleggio have succeeded in doing this, it’s because the movements were unable to find a way out of the crisis that hit them ten years or so ago. There hasn’t been any reorganisation, and the cycle of struggles that followed haven’t been able to take root in common sense. Grillo embodies the failure of the movements, and we must deal with this primarily. The fact that so many left-wing and radical people (amongst them activists in the previous cycle of struggles) chose Grillo “because there is no alternative” is understandable: we don’t have it in for them. But we are sure that M5S is a false solution, and the “there’s-nothing-else” refrain is a consequence of the “capturing” we were talking about. If Grillo’s face is superimposed on every movement, it is inevitable that people will have the impression that he is the only one taking action. The spell must be broken, and, at the same time, the heavy work of reconstruction must be carried out.

RC: You were talking about No TAV. On 23 March, all M5S members of parliament will travel to Val Susa and take part in a demonstration against the TAV, a strong signal that M5S is taking ownership of the struggles in the valley. And this could be repeated for other movements. How can this choice of organic action be compatible with the M5S’s right-wing framework?

WM: They should be the ones to explain how they can reconcile their support of a movement that isn’t afraid of using illegal methods and has also used force, with a concept of “honesty” which is limited to having a “clean” criminal record. This is another contradiction that such frenzied and showy activism tries to keep hidden: you run here and there so that you don’t have to truly face up to any fundamental knotty problems.

RC: Could you give an example of a “fundamental knotty problem” that they don’t want to face?

WM: The “citizens’ income”: they constantly mention it, and this was certainly a bad habit in the “antagonist” movement, most of all in a certain post-workerism that was a little bit, let’s say, “flower power”. But what does one mean by “citizens’ income”? The problem can be further divided in two: what does one mean by “income”? Is it an unemployment subsidy? Is it the minimum wage? Is it one thousand euros per person? And then, do we get it by taxing the rich or by abolishing the pension funds and cutting all public salaries? Certainly the ultra-liberalist Casaleggio is pushing for the latter, but do they all agree? Furthermore, what is understood by “citizenship”? Is it the universalistic principle born of the French Revolution or is it the right-wing nationalistic variety? Is it ‘ius soli’ or ‘ius sanguinis’? Is my black neighbour, whose children go to school with mine, included or not? Judging from certain racist statements coming from exponents of M5S and from Grillo himself, we would say that he is not included, and that the “citizens’ income” would be distributed according to chauvinistic criteria.

RC: You “cheer” for the rebellion of the movement’s base against the top of M5S and the base. But which base are we talking about, given that in M5S there is not only the precarious worker and the poorly-paid worker who is obliged to be self-employed but also the small businessman hit by the crisis and the pensioner?

WM: There’s been a misunderstanding about this point. By “cheering for a rebellion within M5S” we mean the hope that the contradictions will intensify and explode. This shouldn’t be confused with a narrow argument about the “base” that “is good”: at the base there are many fascists and people that until yesterday were carried away by Bossi or Berlusconi. There’s even that guy from the Pontedera M5S who broadcast a terrifying racist statement, there’s that Sardinian member who compared gay marriage to sex with animals… The “base” isn’t “good”, this would also be part of a right-wing framework, an attempt to covertly bring back the idea of the “People” versus the “Caste”, when in this case Grillo and Casaleggio are the caste. No, we hope for vertical and horizontal breaks, and on concrete issues. It will be specific battles that bring “left-wing” M5S members face-to-face with choices that now can no longer be put off.

RC: Do you think that Grillo will accept the offer of “governing” so as not to “end up like Greece”?

WM: Casaleggio, who has certainly devoured marketing manuals such as Tom Peters’ Thriving on Chaos, is asking himself how M5S can preserve its image as “the great upsetter” even in a phase like this one, where some concrete decisions will have to be made, and where any concrete decision will bring about the sacrifice of something (and someone). In any case, whichever path they choose, the contradictions mentioned above will not remain hidden for long.