Interview. The 80-year-old Italian sociologist Domenico De Masi spoke with us about the crowning of Italy’s far-right government. ‘I was born under Fascism in 1938, and I will die in an Italy that is not just right-wing, but right of the right.’

Within two years Salvini will devour M5S, researcher says

Domenico De Masi says it with a smile, but he is quite serious. “This is the darkest day for the Italian Left. Here in Italy, a right-wing government is taking office that will be more to the right than in 1946. And I am 80 years old. I was born under Fascism in 1938, and I will die in an Italy that is not just right-wing, but ‘right of the right.’”

A sociologist by training, he has been one of the academics most open to the 5 Star Movement, for which he has also conducted research. Today, however, he explains, everything is changing—they are making a turn to the right.

“Marx distinguished the ‘class in itself’ and ‘class for itself.’ The 5 Stars have an ambiguous structure, sociologically homogeneous but ideologically divided. Their social base was analyzed by the Istituto Cattaneo: 45 percent are of the left, 25 percent of the right, and 30 percent are undecided. Out of the people who voted, M5S received the votes of 37 percent of the teachers, 37 percent of the workers, 38 percent of the unemployed and 41 percent of the employees in the public administration. One in three CGIL members voted for them, as well as two million former Democratic Party voters.”

To sum up, they have a left-wing social base.

But we must pay attention to what Marx said. The parties would have to teach this left-wing base to have a left-wing conscience, a soul and a consciousness of the left. But now, the parties are no longer performing this pedagogic task. The 5 Stars have a base that is closest to the one that the Italian Communist Party of Berlinguer had. But Berlinguer himself is missing. And so is Gramsci.

There is, however, Renzi.

If the Democratic Party had accepted to form a government with the M5S, it would have been easy for them to regain their base. Today, Salvini will be able to do the opposite: to attract the right-leaning 5 Stars voters to himself. In 2013, the social base of the Democratic Party was still similar to this. Renzi’s attempt was to change the social base of his party. This operation was successful, but also suicidal.

But if there are all these leftists in the 5 Stars Movement, why were they so outraged by the idea of ​​an agreement to form a government with the Democratic Party?

It’s not they who were outraged; the other M5S voters were.

How will these voters react now to the agreement with the Lega?

Now, this group is baffled, as they were hoping for a “democratization” of the 5 Star Movement, not an authoritarian turn. I do not think that the M5S has the strength to pull them toward the right. These two million voters abandoned the Democratic Party moving leftwards. Now they are uncommitted, but there is no Left for them to come back to.

It might happen instead that the yellow-green government will pass broadly popular measures, such as investing more money into pensions. The Left would be forced to grudgingly praise them.

The problem lies with how to spend the money. The priorities of Salvini and those of Di Maio are different. Di Maio needs to pass a generous basic income, particularly for the south. Salvini will be more disposed toward a middle path. But one thing is certain: they will first pass measures that do not cost money, but are highly symbolic. They will liberalize carrying guns for self-defense, a measure that will make Italian culture more violent. They will increase controls on immigrants, and they will reduce aid to asylum seekers, who are already being held in awful concentration camps. Thus, with things like that, they are likely to change our anthropological structure.

Do you think they won’t have the resources to change the Fornero Law?

It could be that they will manage to tweak the law a little, but in the meantime they will replace the whole leadership of the RAI public television, which will turn this small tweak into a major victory.

There has been a honeymoon period between the M5S and the radical Left. Even you gave them a lot of credit. Although quite a few things about them, for example their use of the Rousseau platform, suggested one should exercise caution. Have you changed your mind now?

Before I answer, let me tell you a story. I was in Ivrea, on the invitation of the M5S [at an event in memory of Gianroberto Casaleggio]. On that occasion, I was able to understand this platform, which they made me study for two days. The platform has eight pillars, and one of them, for example, serves for local council members as an e-learning tool so that they can know, about any given subject, what laws are on the books and what the situation is in the other municipalities, etc. It is a pioneering function, which everyone will be copying soon. However, the greatest electoral help for the 5 Stars was Renzi, and I’m saying this as someone for whom the PD used to be the party of reference. We are not economic liberals, but suddenly we found ourselves with a neo-liberal Democratic Party. Even more, a Democratic Party which abused a large part of Italian constitutionalism. My contact with the 5 Star Movement was of a professional nature, but it still allowed me to get a sneak peek into this movement: a sociologist cannot help being intrigued by such a phenomenon. I saw that the M5S had both a left-wing and a right-wing soul. Hence my attempt to help along, in my own small way, an encounter between the M5S and the PD. It could have resulted in the birth of the most beautiful social democracy of the Mediterranean, an intellectual colonization of the 5 Stars. Instead, it has become possible now to create the most right-wing government in the history of republican Italy and the most far-right government of the EU. Within two years, Salvini will eat the 5 Stars right up.

You believe that this inaugurates a long period of right-wing rule?

Of course it does. Meanwhile, this government will have a lot of allies. Let’s face it, almost everybody was cheering for the Lega-5 Stars deal: Il Corriere, La Repubblica, Confindustria, which said “do it quickly,” and the decision-makers in the media who gave orders to say on TV that, in any case, a government was needed immediately. And thus it would be a Lega-5 Stars government, given that the Democratic Party was unavailable.

What will be the fate of the 5 Star Movement after these recent developments?

The Lega will eat them up. The most right-leaning voters will switch to Salvini. Those of the left will tend to flee. From today on, we need a militant opposition. I’m saying it clearly, so that no one would even imagine that I would be interested in one of the 200 public offices that will now be distributed by the M5S. No, we need a real opposition. But this is impossible without a solid reference point. Just a little while ago, I was on a show. On such a day as this one, the darkest day of the Left, while the most far-right government in Europe is being created, what were the PD and the MDP representatives doing? They were fighting amongst themselves.

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