If we were to read 2016 through only its political and institutional aspects, we might conclude that the year that is ending was not among the worst. Italians defended the Constitution en masse and the man in command, at the wheel of an arrogant government, has left a Chigi Palace now occupied by Gentiloni, a strange Renzi clone.
If we look across the border, the sum of terrorist violence, the tragedy of war — the image of Aleppo is emblematic of this year — as well as the populist advance in Europe and especially in the United States, the year is definitely more complex and worrying.
As almost always happens, there is a double thread that binds some of these events: democracy and the people. In the United States as well as in Italy. Yet today, democracy and people are brittle, manipulated, easily translatable words with presidentialism and populism. The presidentialist democracy and the boss are perfectly consistent, at center stage, while the parliament is the likeness of a social and economic system that belongs to the bourgeois society of a past anchored to one currency and one territory.
The future for the populists is a return to the past. It is Trump, or the resurrected ghost of the coal and oil working class. It is the Brexit that strengthens the border and the currency, which have always been protected. And Putin, the star of the redesign of a balance of power in the countries under his sphere of influence.
Yet there is a bit of populism in all parties. Because today, politics as we have known it does not seem to prevail, but the gut, the instinct, aggressiveness, fear. It infects all the political groups and finds a fertile ground and protagonists in social media, which are being transformed from a place of meeting, knowledge, exchange and common democracy, into a weapon, a tool, a mediatic means of destroying the opponent or the lives of individuals.
The left experienced this era dented or in defeat, both in Europe and in the world.
The populist swing is happening in a few countries of the Old Continent, like in Greece, where it is allied with the nationalist right, or, as in France, where is the protagonist of the autodafé. It cannot interpret or represent this frightened society that wants to close the doors and defend itself, that asks for simple answers to complex problems. Surfing in this black sea of fear is the testing ground of the left in these times of populism, war and terrorism. It’s a defensive battle which is especially difficult since the increased and unprecedented inequalities rip the flags and swell the sails of dynastic democracies, the so-called democratures.
However, in the midst of this systemic crisis, the left holds good cards, like those played by Sanders, Corbyn and Iglesias. Sure, its electorate is confused, disappointed, angry and above all, anxious about tomorrow. Like we all are. Because we all see the black background of a frightening tomorrow. For the future of the children, for those who do not work and those that the global economy assigns a value at some point in its chain. And fear is a pessimistic adviser, as well as a psychological irrepressible force that tames and distorts democracy, overwhelms the old intermediate bodies (including the parliament) to run toward the paternalistic leader who promises security and assistance.
Of course there are those who think that it is wrong to talk about post-democracy because the freedom to vote and of expression are still steadfast, though continually under attack, and because, by definition, democracy is always in crisis. There is still a strong demand for participation, in the online forms and television, which are harder to read than the old square meetings of the movements and parties. Just as it is difficult to define classes, parties, alliances. The employees of call centers, those who work for vouchers, the Uberized workers, the young and less young figures of precarious work, coexisting alongside large areas of a migrant neo-slavery. But the request for participation and vote continues to be heard, as demonstrated by the 70 percent turnout in the Dec. 4 referendum.
In a world divided by deep inequalities, if the populist movement promises an impossible return to a past of walled borders, the left must indicate a prospect of freedom and brotherhood that is a certain and credible alternative. In the theoretical analysis tools and reference political figures.
Certainly in 2017, the left will have to deal with two right-wing opponents, one neo-liberal and another nationalist. The first step is to rebuild, reconnect, reorganize. Then comes the action, whether and with whom to propose alliances at this stage. We oversimplify the analysis in Italy: with the Democratic Party or the 5 Star Movement? What is the pan and what are the embers? It is a hard question. You judge. But hic Rhodus, hic salta.
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