You having a laugh?

I am writing with regard to your current editorial, ‘How do we stop UKIP?’. While I cannot disagree with the conclusions of the article, I am amazed that you can write approvingly of the Five Star Movement, as if it represented some sort of alternative to UKIP and other far-right parties and movements that have emerged across Europe in recent years.

The Five Star Movement (5SM) is officially allied with UKIP in the European Parliament. Both parties’ MEPs are members of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group, alongside other colourful characters such as former Front Nationale MEP Joelle Bergeron and Polish MEP Robert Iwaszkiewicz, a member of Poland’s Congress of the New Right (KNP). The KNP’s leader, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, is a Holocaust-denier and vile sexist who thinks that the minimum wage should be ‘destroyed’. Even Marine le Pen refused to form an alliance with the KNP.

Beppe Grillo, Five Star’s leader, was asked by a member of the far-right Casa Pound movement whether he was an antifascist. His response? ‘The question doesn’t concern me. 5SM is an ecumenical movement.’ You do not need to look far to find reports of other racist, sexist and quasi-fascist comments made by 5SM parliamentarians.

You describe 5SM ‘an unclassifiable anti-war party of participatory democracy’. Anti-war, maybe. Unclassifiable? It seems they’ve chosen to classify themselves with Europe’s far-right, at least in the European Parliament. Participatory democracy? In an extensive analysis, the Italian collective Wu Ming write that: ‘the 5SM is a top-down organisation with no intermediate bodies between Grillo and Casaleggio and the populace of fans/activists. Every major decision is taken by those two wealthy sixty-somethings, and «direct democracy» only amounts to calling on the base to approve it in a tele-plebiscitarian way.’

There are plenty of positive political developments taking place across Europe. Why you think Five Star Movement should be included amongst them is beyond me.

Chris Jones, by email

Editor's response:

Thanks for your email, Chris, and I’m glad we agree on what to do about UKIP. The editorial in the last issue was even more favourable to the Five Star Movement (MoVimento 5 Stelle, or M5S) than you say. In a loose turn of phrase, we referred to ‘radical left groupings’ like Syriza, Five Star and Podemos. We knew even then that M5S was not a ‘radical left grouping’, which is why we later called it ‘unclassifiable’.

Having looked at the Five Star Movement more closely as a result of your letter, I can see you’re right to point to the lack of intermediate bodies within the party as a major democratic deficit, and right to express concern at the friendly relations between M5S and the far right. Leading figures in M5S have also expressed anti-immigrant attitudes which make them sound like UKIP. M5S seems to contain radicals of the left and radicals of the right

I was shocked when I discovered that Beppe Grillo, the 5SM party leader (and personal owner of the party name and logo), had attacked Italian public sector workers as a whole, and called for them to be sacked en masse.

Many people say that Grillo has called for all trade unions to be eliminated. This isn’t true. In his Brindisi speech on 18 January 2013, Grillo did say: ‘let us get rid of the unions, old structures like the parties. There’s no longer a need for trade unions.’

However, on his blog a few days later, on 20 January 2013, Grillo made it clear that he was actually attacking the three major trade union confederations, who had become ‘privileged interlocutors with the governments that have killed off the dignity, the safety, the social rights, and the health facilities gained through bitter battles lasting decades’.

Grillo praised the ‘smaller trade unions’, and mentioned the radical metalworkers union, FIOM, by name: ‘They are the only ones that have got a saving grace.’

He said in his speech in Brindisi, and repeated on his blog, that ‘Companies and factories must belong, at least partially, to those who work there’, and he cited with approval Zanon, the Argentine ceramic factory that has been under workers’ self-management since 2002 (see PN 2485).

These aren’t the words of someone implacably opposed to workers’ rights.

The Wu Ming analysis you refer to describes M5S as ‘a confusionist movement with a dominant right-wing approach to many key issues’. Is it deliberately ‘confusionist’ to hide its right-wing agenda – or just ‘confused’ in a strange, rather apolitical, manner? I’m not sure.

Either way, we should have been less positive about it! – Milan Rai, co-editor