Within the opaque framework of a government of national unity, which in one way or another will leave its mark on the positions and identities of the political forces that are part of it, it should not surprise anyone if the youngest political force with the most fragile identity—here, the Five Star Movement—should suffer the most serious consequences.
For a political force that in just a few years managed to earn a staggering 32% of the votes, that rose up as a relative majority party, that went from opposition to government, that has been a decisive element in three consecutive governments, it’s not so strange that it finds itself on the verge of a split.
After all, trying to keep Giuseppe Conte and Beppe Grillo together in one party is like trying to unite the Devil with holy water. One is an institutionalist, parliamentarian, an advocate of civil liberties by training, while the other is an anarchist, populist, with vigilantist impulses. In the tumultuous phase of the party’s growth in support, the latter aspect was predominant, while after gaining access to the levers of power, the institutionalist one has obviously gained ground, among both the elected and party members, representing the choice of not wanting to play a secondary role in the future to come.
On Monday afternoon, Conte, in a press conference, admitted that this is a moment of great difficulty for the party, explaining that “the Movement has critical issues, deficiencies, ambiguities that explain the loss of support,” and that accordingly, “there is no option for a half-measure leadership, and it doesn’t help to whitewash a structure that needs deep renovation work.”
In essence, Conte is saying that in order for the Five Stars not to die, they must have “the courage to change,” not the values on which they were founded, but their whole structure; not the foundations of the house, but every supporting pillar. According to him, these are the reasons for the crisis and this is the way out: “It is now up to Grillo and the members to make the choice”—i.e. whether to join in this initiative or sabotage it.
Moreover, since we’re looking at the trials and tribulations of the center-left—to which Conte has referred as the “wide field” in which the Five Stars should be positioned (putting an end to the old ambiguity of “neither right nor left”)—we are all witnesses of the recent and dramatic leadership crisis of the PD.
We’ve seen the fragile solution that was found to the traumatic resignation of Secretary Zingaretti, replaced without debate by a new secretary who rose up on the scene to shore up the Draghi government, but powerless in the face of the “gangs” within the party.
On the other hand, if the political winds that brought Draghi to Palazzo Chigi in the midst of a pandemic, according to most polls, continue to be favorable to the right-wing, promising first place at the polls to the newest heirs of fascism, the shocks that are running through the individual parties should not be surprising—on the contrary, they should be read as a confirmation of the weakness of the progressive democratic front.
Not least for the very fact of seeing its greatest force, the PD, polling at only around 20%; moreover, with the other forces of the left—whether in government or opposition—barely eking out 2% (each). And we could hardly expect anything different, since these forces, although walking in the same direction, are going on parallel roads, divided by walls of mutual incomprehension and leader loyalty worthy of a far better cause.
What is happening now among the Five Stars appears inevitable—and indeed, it is. It’s likely that a truce will be declared [editor’s note: on Tuesday, Grillo doubled down and Conte appears to have withdrawn from the party], but if the two components will end up somehow glued together, the mixture will hardly be stable for the long run. Moreover, the voters on which they could count before have dispersed, partly going to swell the ranks of the right and partly the ranks of the indifferent, and the evidence is clear: no progressive and left-wing party has gained from the M5S’s losses in support.
The conflict is not so much about the pro-government choice of the Movement, but rather about the chain of internal democracy and the political and social roots in the territories. It’s a conflict about the end of the absolute monarchy embodied by the “Most High One,” Grillo himself; about those rites of communication that, as in old times, made the king’s body into the main vehicle of the political message, whether he swam across the Strait or surfed the crowds in the squares on a raft. It’s also because his prophetic skills have seemed a bit worse for wear lately (see his blunder of taking Minister Cingolani for an environmentalist, and seeing Draghi as the savior of the country).
Of course, the choice will ultimately be determined by the vote of the members, finally free from the proprietary chains of the Rousseau platform.
Getting out of the crisis with a step back by Grillo will not be easy, and if the decision is for a split, the M5S would find itself replicating a traditional party process. If it were to split, how would it be different from all the other parties that have done so? For example, the PD, which has found no peace ever since the fall of the Wall, torn by continuous divisions. Moreover, a destructive split would be a boon to those from the right to the left of the political spectrum, including Calenda, who want the M5S to disappear. It would be a slap in the face to the millions of voters who have supported them; and it could be devastating for any alternative to the ascendant right-wing coalition.
If they don’t find their way to a re-foundation, as risky as it is necessary, their future is to take their place among the falling stars.