Gone and Forgotten?

The Demise of Italian Extra-Parliamentarism

Regardless of the firm refusal from Guy Verhofstadt, last December’s attempt by the Five Star Movement to join the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in Brussels stands as a harsh and bitter reminder that the once-deeply rooted Italian extra-parliamentary tradition belongs to the past.

Generally speaking, when a self-proclaimed ‘anti-establishment’ movement displays the resolve to merge with the likes of ALDE – a group that epitomizes the EU’s bureaucratic machine – the core values that contributed to its initial success amongst the estranged and frustrated voters need to be questioned.

Beppe Grillo’s movement rose to fame on the wings of its fierce and radical criticism of the nexus between Italian party politics and corporate lobbies. By definition, the strong advocacy for  ‘direct democracy’ shouldn’t just have assigned the Five Star Movement to the realm of parliamentary opposition. It should have sufficed to place it outside the representative democracy system per se.

The reality, however, tells a different story. Grillo’s version of direct democracy has, so far, been limited to the promotion of transparency and online participation within the movement, as was the case with the 2015 Rousseau platform aimed at facilitating the casting of the party’s members’ opinions on matters of regional, national, and foreign policy.

Albeit advocating direct democracy within a group’s own comfort zone whilst participating in the very same system – parliamentary democracy – whose founding principle is the delegation of decisional power to political elites, might be a clear outcome of political opportunism. The reasons for the Five Star Movement’s evanescent and sterile resistance are different, subconscious, and more deeply-embedded in the tumultuous history of Italian politics. 

When considering the nature of political unrest in Western Europe during the 1970’s, one can’t fail to appreciate that the level of confrontation between the status quo and dissidence was far more radical in Italy than in any other country. Just over three decades ago, anti-establishment groups drawing from opposite and mutually conflicting ends of the political spectrum shared one founding pillar: the radically unambiguous rejection of representative democracy and party politics. From the orthodox Marxist stance upheld by the likes of Lotta Continua, to the syncretic national-revolutionary position embraced by Terza Posizione, the standoff against the liberal state was the unchallenged common denominator. The multi-faceted array of factions populating the hot season of Italian political unrest in the ’70's could only have lived and operated outside the system they intended to crush. Rallies, often degenerating into open confrontation with the security forces, were the norm.  

But what was then isn’t now. 

What appears to be a general disaffection for activism and spontaneous political association is the new norm.

Ironically, 21st century Italian self-proclaimed dissidents seem to deliver their full revolutionary potential in support of pro-immigration policies and gender equality narratives promoted by the very same globalist agenda they claim to oppose. 

It could easily be argued that, as a result of the end of the Cold War, Western European society transformed as a whole. 

Indeed, no one can deny that the long arm of the hegemonic Pax Americana – the last standing ideology – largely contributed to the annihilation of all forms of active resistance in the West. 

This, however, fails to exhaustively explain the uniqueness of the Italian situation. 

The degeneration of the dreams and hopes of those who swarmed into the streets of all Italian cities in the seventies has been thoroughly – and all too often instrumentally – documented by retrospective historiography.  Allegations and half-truths concerning the state-maneuvered escalation of the conflict between far-left and far-right extra-parliamentarisms, the harsh price paid by some of those involved whilst others skillfully managed to reshape themselves so as to fit within the boundaries of  ‘civil society’, a narrative depicting those years as one of the worse occurrences in the country’s contemporary history, second only – of course – to fascism, notre mal du siècle – all these instances contributed to instilling a sense of fear for confrontation in post-’70's Italian youth. The subsequent collapse of the communist block and the victory of hedonism and the pursuit of individual gains over communitarianism, largely contributed to relegate the last remnants of extra-parliamentary and anti-liberal resistance to complete oblivion, to secure it in a dark and scary closet never again to be approached, let alone unlocked.  

This cognitive dissonance – dexterously masterminded by the liberal and globalist front for the best part of the last thirty years– is the psycho-social background in which the Five Star Movement exists and carries out its sterile and easily-contained anti-establishment activity.

The flagrant oxymoron represented by the incontrollable urge to ‘fit in’ the system – both in Rome and in Brussels  - whilst campaigning against it is a result of a mental block, a psychological barrier, which, behind the ‘uselessness of open revolt’ narrative, fails to hide the quintessential fear of repercussions resulting from genuine and radical dissent as nailed into the conscience of Italians by the system. 

Thus, so far so good for the financial lobbies in the Roman button-room, for the true rebel is – in the words of Ernst Jünger – ‘the man who has forsworn fear in his own heart.’