The Corner

Echoes

The Spectator’s Nicholas Farrell looks at the Grillo phenomenon and finds an interesting echo or two:

‘Surrender! You’re surrounded!’ [Grillo] bellowed over and over again at his rallies. The phrase was traditionally very popular with Italian fascists. He was referring to all Italy’s politicians, except his lot.

Now, less than four years after its foundation, his movement is the largest single party in the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, after it secured 26 per cent of the poll at this week’s inconclusive Italian general elections. It is not, insists this fascist of the forest, a party. It is a movement. Parties, he is adamant, are the problem, not the solution. Mussolini founded his Fasci di Combattimento in Milan on 23 March 1919 and less than four years later he was prime minister. Fascism was not, he insisted, a party but a movement. Parties, he was adamant, were the problem, not the solution. Fascism would be an ‘anti-party’ of free spirits who refused to be tied down by the straitjacket of parties with their dogmas and doctrines. This is precisely what Grillo says about his own movement…

What gave Mussolini popular traction is what gives Grillo traction: a virulent hatred of parliament and the politicians who infest it. The dictator famously said he could have moved his bivouacs into ‘this deaf and grey chamber’ but had chosen not to. The comedian uses the same language. Whereas Mussolini spread the word through his own mass daily newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, and enforced it by means of his blackshirts, Grillo does so through his website, Il Blog di Beppe Grillo, and violent verbal abuse and ostracism of opponents. Whereas Mussolini travelled by train to his rallies, Grillo travels to his by camper van.

‘I did not invent fascism,’ said Mussolini, ‘I extracted it from the Italian people.’ Grillo did not invent his movement, he says, he merely provided the humus — the internet forum — in which it grew. During the election campaign, he did not give one television or newspaper interview, because journalists, like politicians, are the enemy. Both Mussolini and Grillo appeal to the spirit and soul rather than the wallet and mind of Italians. Fascism was a civic religion and the Duce its god. The MoVimento 5 Stelle is a sect, with Grillo its guru, and like all good sects it does not have an office. Its HQ is not real, but virtual: Beppe’s blog.

“Fascism, “ notes Farrell “was able to flourish thanks to the impotence and corruption of Italian democracy”. True enough, and Italy’s postwar democracy has not been the prettiest of spectacles either, something that led to a certain malign flourishing of both extreme and right in the 1970s. What makes today’s situation so dangerous is the way that even that flawed system has been hollowed out by Brussels, most spectacularly, and most devastatingly, by the introduction of the euro, a currency that has simultaneously undermined Italy’s democracy and its economy, setting the stage for who knows what.

Farrell concludes on a note that is, I think too pessimistic (at least for now) and which also overstates the extent to which the Grillini are opposed to the euro (it’s complicated), but the parallels he draws are striking and are a reminder that this lunatic monetary experiment risks taking Europe to some very dangerous places indeed.

The unelected economics professor Mario Monti, who replaced Berlusconi as premier in a palace coup in November 2011, merely raised taxes and invented new ones. But austerity is not just raising taxes; it’s cutting spending. Monti did nothing to hack back the monstrous debt (it rose from 120 per cent to 129 per cent). He did nothing to stimulate growth. Youth unemployment is at 35 per cent, and unemployment in total is much higher than the official 12 per cent if you count the hundreds of thousands still technically employed but paid by the state not to work. Like fascism, Grillo’s movement is essentially left-wing and in favour of the state sorting things out — the Italian state. But it is against the euro and Europe — and Germany in particular.

Mussolini wrote soon after founding fascism that it is ‘difficult to define’. Fascism does not have ‘statutes’ or ‘transcending programmes’. Therefore ‘it is natural’ that it should attract ‘the young’ rather than the old who are likely to refuse its ‘freshness’. Grillo’s manifesto is called ‘Il non statuto’. On his blog he says, ‘We’re all young …  We’re a movement of many people who are uniting from the bottom up. We don’t have structures, hierarchies, bosses, secretaries … No one gives us orders.’

Welcome to the new fascist future.

 

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