Interview. Italian sociologist Domenico De Masi says voting for minor parties is the same as voting for the Lega.

De Masi: ‘We have to vote for the lesser evil’

We spoke with Domenico De Masi, the Sapienza sociologist, about his previous support for the Five Stars and the future of the movement. He predicts that within the next eight years the Lega will have total power in Rome.

Professor Domenico De Masi, before the elections you signed a public appeal to vote for the La Sinistra list, after previously supporting the M5S. The list failed. Do you have any regrets?

I am a sociologist working on labor issues, so I’m glad that the “dignity decree” and the citizen’s income have been passed. Now, I hope the minimum wage will also be approved. And I have collaborated on a draft law for the reduction of working hours, a topic I care about deeply, and which is the most important measure to fight unemployment. I knew that many who were disappointed by the Five Stars would not have voted for the PD. So my appeal was, above all, one against casting a null vote.

Are blank ballots the real problem?

I am an honorary citizen of Rio de Janeiro, and I recently travelled there to meet with Lula in prison. There, in Brazil, the 27 million who did not vote or cast a null vote, mostly of the left, made Bolsonaro win and plunge the country into a dictatorship. All for reasons of “purity,” so they wouldn’t vote for the PT.

Is the focus on “purity” on the left also an Italian problem?

I’ll give you an example: in 2008 in Rome, many on the left didn’t want to vote for Rutelli, so Alemanno won. When we are faced with a binary choice, we have to vote for the lesser evil. I would never vote for Renzi. But if there was a runoff between Renzi and Salvini, there would be absolutely no doubt in my mind: I would vote for Renzi. Again, we need to be careful, or Bolsonaro will win.

Are we coming to the point of having to make such a binary choice in Italy?

We’re already there. If there are no early elections, Salvini is in such a powerful position that he will pass the laws he wants. If there are early elections, the right will win. So, Salvini will either be the de facto prime minister, or the prime minister pure and simple. In short, we’re facing the prospect of far right rule, in which case a resistance scenario is the only one available, not one of democratic competition.

The Five Stars are in a deep crisis.

I had predicted from the beginning—in il manifesto, in fact—that the alliance between the M5S and the Lega would lead to the triumph of the Lega. The fact that Salvini wants to go ahead with the current government means that he thinks there is still something to devour in his prey. He is the lion eating the gazelle, piece by piece. He knows that he would win in an early election, but together with Berlusconi. Instead, he wants to win all by himself. He knows that there are still 20 percent of M5S supporters willing to switch to him. The “gazelle” is facing many problems: the lack of a leadership class, the need to rely entirely on Di Maio when he should be giving up some of his roles. He has too many. But he’s not doing that, because he knows he is short on political personnel.

The Democratic Party claims it is the “pillar” for an alternative to the government.

The left is in a dramatic situation. It is facing a rampant right, which, when it comes to power, will exercise it brutally. And we won’t be able to say we didn’t know: if someone is going on TV in military uniform, what else does he have to do to make us understand what he’ll do if he’s alone in power? Can you imagine former Interior Minister Napolitano dressed as a soldier? It is clear that these are the stages of drawing closer to authoritarianism. There is a neoliberal animus in the Democratic Party, which is represented by Enrico Letta in its refined and cultured manifestation, by Calenda in its ties to industry, and by Renzi in political terms. Calenda and Renzi could start a centrist party together, which would make Zingaretti stop equivocating, and would bring those who left because they couldn’t stand Renzi back to the PD. Then, such a centrist party would be a future ally of the Democratic Party. There is nothing wrong with having neoliberal views as such. But one should not fuel equivocation and one should not remain in a party that should be social-democratic. However, it will take eight years to accomplish this.

Eight years?

The time between the end of this government and that of a fully right-wing government. The Democratic Party has made a step forward, however. Many people voted for them to stop the black wave. But many didn’t vote for them, because Zingaretti’s left turn still hasn’t arrived. True, the PD has made a first step forward. But it can’t be a true social-democratic party until it gets rid of the neoliberal bloc. For instance, Marattin is a well-trained and intelligent economist, but he is not a Social Democrat.

Let’s return to the M5S, which is facing a crossroads.

They don’t have a political model, nor do they have a political culture. I have a high opinion of Di Maio, but he still has to gain more maturity, and he has no theoretical basis, so he is pushing Casaleggio’s nonsense. But when such things were said by the elder Casaleggio, they had a certain aura of depth; now, from the mouth of Casaleggio jr., they make no sense at all: he is nothing more than a Milanese manager. The Five Stars are between a rock and a hard place: if they stay in the government, they will end up being bled dry. They should find a good excuse to break away. But they won’t, because when one gets into power, one doesn’t give it up. And because many of them are in their second term [and would not be allowed to run for office again under the M5S’s internal rules].

Have they gotten themselves stuck in a trap?

They are stuck on a dead-end street. They will only leave it when they are reduced to despair and when they have become a minor party. Then, they will have no escape: they will have to ally themselves with the Democratic Party. Provided that the PD will be willing. But I am optimistic about that: both the Democratic Party and the M5S are different from what they were a year ago. One year ago, the M5S had around 45 percent left-wing supporters, and the Democratic Party’s supporters were majority pro-Renzi. Today, those still supporting the Five Stars are mainly those on the left, and the Zingaretti wing has won in the Democratic Party. There are more elements to make a dialogue possible than there were before.

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