Commentary. Old versus new is nowadays a division 10 times more powerful than left versus right: Whoever most embodies the new will win.

With the 5 Star Movement, Italy has invented a new form of politics

The near-disappearance of the Italian Left, hit hard by the results of the election, leaves us with an understandable feeling of emptiness and loss.

But it is not at all clear that the new political landscape has only negative features.

The parties and members of Parliament “left of the Democratic Party” entered this election cycle weakened by 10 years of failure. With these results, they can no longer be at the center of any new initiatives. The Democratic Party is spiraling into a crisis that is quite possibly irreversible.

The elections have thus left the whole democratic-progressive field wide open, and this could be an opportunity for anyone who is anti-neoliberal.

In several European countries, the anti-neoliberal Left is defeating the socialist parties, who are undoubtedly the parties most in crisis everywhere on the continent.

Given the near-permanently-disqualifying failures of the Italian Left, there is a need, and perhaps an opportunity, to build a completely new force in the progressive part of the spectrum, with no less than majority ambitions. This possibility, however, has a very specific condition: a discontinuity with what was there before, and not just a strong separation but a radical, absolute break. A new force will be able to have great ambitions (and these elections have shown once again that if you don’t have big ambitions, you don’t have any ambition at all) only if it is completely devoid of the old politicians’ faces, the old structures, the old forms of negotiation and coalition-making, and the old slogans.

The proof is in: Italians voters are not interested in the mainstream Left, or the radical Left, in the forms that have existed up to now.

Old versus new is nowadays a division 10 times more powerful than left versus right: Whoever most embodies the new will win, like the 5 Star Movement did in 2013 and 2018, and Renzi in 2014.

But how would it be possible to build a new force able to make itself noticed in the current landscape, and put a stop to the never-ending stream of new signs, lists, names and logos invented in a hurry just a few weeks before the elections?

The second consecutive victory of the 5 Star Movement in domestic elections gives us clues about the long term.

First of all, Italy has once again invented a new form of politics, and one which is the most effective of all the crop of new political inventions in Europe. It has even been capable of achieving something that counts as almost a miracle for a populist movement: replacing its leader.

Second, its success has confirmed that we are in the historical phase in which the playing field is populism. You’re either on this field or you’re out of the game.

Third, consensus building should be pursued in the most scientific way possible: moving from the local, individual knowledge of the members of society, from its needs and its forms of collective representation (a task that Casaleggio Associati has been accomplishing for the 5 Star Movement), and translating the needs thus identified into very few but very powerful messages, communicated in the most appropriate ways according to the content. (Putting on a show? Yes, even that.)

An election campaign is a campaign, and it has to reach circles far from those of its own militants. It cannot be a solipsistic discourse made solely for the pleasure of being among friends and companions. In addition, in the view of the electorate a party basically stands for one thing, and that thing places it within the political space: Salvini is anti-immigration, the 5 Stars are anti-political elites. What does the Left stand for?

Fourth, a protest force, or an alternative movement, must have a global perspective in which to place its discourse. Even the proposals to strengthen the existing order and its hierarchy have a global outlook (the most powerful one, as it is the most tangible). But a political force can indeed evoke an alternative order of things, something that once was called a utopia.

The 5 Star Movement does exactly this: their utopia is that of democracy and the digital society, which they think already exists, perfect just the way it is, needing only to be fully manifested. It is a paradise on earth, a textbook utopia to which politics must adapt. And it comes accompanied by a second utopia: the global transformation of the political system.

Without a utopia and without a global horizon, no political action is possible, especially for the Left. But this should go without saying—ever since 1789 and during the following century, that was how left-wing movements were always born: as a utopian foreshadowing of a new world, a political prophecy based on the real existing society, on the potential it contains but cannot develop, on the promises it makes but cannot fulfill.

This used to be called “dialectic.” Today, what is the utopian horizon of the Left? Is it still socialism? And what does socialism even mean nowadays?

There is a very strong historical analogy to be made between the current phase of history and that of the first industrial revolution, between the end of the 18th and the middle of the 19th century, the era in which the Left was born.

The industrial revolution destroyed the society of the old regime and the political form of absolute monarchy. It was an “anti-political” historical phase, in which the targets of the movements and revolutions were the political classes, public authorities, and the form of the state itself.

Today, similarly, the “digital revolution” is destroying parliamentary and representative democracy, a political form no longer adequate to the present social relations and conditions of material life.

The forms of the state and of political organization that we know will not last for long.

The 5 Star Movement has its own alternative model: a political form modeled on the manner of operation, and the interests, of large digital corporations.

Whoever wants to build an emancipation force that would meet the needs of our times will have to rise up to the level of fulfilling those needs: they will have to reinvent the utopia, come up with their own alternative model, find one great symbolic element to define them, and talk about the world that could be, not the one that once was.


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