The unexpected fall of the 5-Star Movement


If the first half of the XX century was defined by Manoilescu as the corporatist one, the 21st could be defined as the populist. That is, as underlined by Ernesto Laclau, at stake is the logic of populism.  This means that populism should not be associated with some parties, but more with a state of mind that is spreading around in all the society and in which the parties must take care of it to compete. The main problem with populist parties is their internal organization. The idea that it should be the people who rule and not the organization, makes every decision process a big dilemma.

One of the main examples of that is the recent vicissitudes of the Five Star Movement (M5S). The Italian Five Star Movement is undergoing a deep and potentially devastating crisis. In the last 2018 legislative election, the M5S gathered 32% of the votes, and thereby coming in first. Yet the latest poll data suggests that if elections had taken place today, their count would have fallen dramatically by about 15-16%.

The reasons behind this stark fall in the party’s popularity are to do with a perceived change of their unique identity as well as their continuing internal crisis. Vertical plebiscites instead of voting cast through the web-based Rousseau platform and a lack of bodies that allows followers to participate, is at the root of a very blurred decision-making process.

During this last year, the M5S parliamentarian group lost many of its members. Some because they did not accept the governmental alliance with the Salvinian League, others because they did not accept the governmental alliance with the Democratic Party (centre-left). All of M5S’s divisions are still unresolved, such as the internal contradictions that have had a direct impact on the strategy of the party’s policies.  At stake currently is the party’s new statute and therefore the new party rule.

The leadership is strongly divided between the former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the 5-Star Movement Founder Beppe Grillo, with regards to who will ultimately maintain the ownership of the M5S logo, and a wider set of powers. Little remains of the Five Star Movement’s original spirit and enthusiasm. The widespread Meet Up groups, enacting the people to actively participate on local issues have largely disappeared or were destroyed soon after the first success of the party.

The alleged will to devolve the voice to the people through a movement is still not existing. But also, the idea to encourage the people to directly decide on M5S policies has also disappeared. M5S is now a sort of oligarchy in which no one takes effective decisions, but in which several decisions are taken by a narrow group of people.

Disillusion and frustration of the millions that voted for the Five Star Movement. The so-called ‘losers’, those who graduated from higher education but now get a low or no income. Those who no longer see any value in the word democracy, which now doesn’t mean anything to them. Those that feel politics is elitist, remote and has no real bearing on their lives.

The likelihood is not the end of the 5-Star Movement, at least in the short term. However, that crisis came with interesting lessons: the organization, intermediate bodies, and defined pattern of decision-making enact democracy instead to limiting it, as the main populist utterance claim seem to suggest. Outside the liberal framework the risk is the majoritarian dictatorship.

Direct democracy led to plebiscite and plebiscite is at odds with democracy. Several of the M5S’s ideas were right with regards to trying to be inclusive when it came to voting, but their solutions, namely a direct digital based democracy proved to be wrong.