Translation: Bifo: “The defeat of the anti-Europe begins in Italy”


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This is a rushed translation of an interview with Franco Berardi (Bifo), conducted by Amador Fernández-Savater for the Interferencias blog on, published 27thFebruary.

What is the context in which the Italian elections have taken place?

The political disintegration of Europe. Europe was born as a project of peace and social solidarity, taking up the legacy of the socialist and internationalist culture that opposed fascism. In the 90s, finance capital’s major centres of power decided to destroy the European model and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty unleashed the neo-liberal assault. In the last three years, the anti-Europe of the ECB and Deutsche Bank seized the opportunity of the 2008 financial crisis in the US to transform the cultural diversity of the European continent (its Protestant culture, gothic and communitarian, its Catholic culture, baroque and individualist, its spiritualist and iconoclastic orthodoxy) into a factor of political disintegration of the European Union; and above all in order to make labour resistance bow completely before capitalist globalisation. The drastic cutting of wages, the elimination of the 8 hour limit to a working day, labour precarity among young people, the postponement of retirement for older people and the privatisation of services. The European population has to pay the debt accumulated by the financial system because debt functions as a gun pointed at the backs of workers.

We are at a historic turning point.

Two things can happen. Either the labour movement can stop this offensive and set in gear a process of social reconstruction of the European Union, or  in the next decade civil war will break out in many parts of Europe, fascism will spread everywhere and labour will be subjected to 19th century conditions of exploitation.

What has the Italian electorate had to say about this alternative?

75% of the Italian electorate has said NO to the European project of Merkel-Draghi-Monti: 25% abstained; 25% voted for Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement; and the other 25% voted for the party of the mafia and fascism, for the most brilliant swindler in history, Berlusconi, the sworn enemy of Angela Merkel because the mafia cannot accept economic rule from Berlin. The Italian elections are a response that can evolve in a positive direction or a catastrophic one. It depends on the progressives, on the intellectuals and the autonomous social movements of the continent, it depends on us.

What is your analysis of the Grillo phenomenon?

Beppe Grillo’s movement is the novelty in these elections. It has picked up votes mainly from the left movements, but it has also gathered votes on the right. Beppe Grillo has said repeatedly that his movement would steal votes from the right and it has achieved this. I do not believe the 5 Star Movement will be able to govern Italy, that is not the point. The important and positive function that the Movement can have is to make the country ungovernable for the anti-European party of Draghi-Merkel-Monti. The Italian electorate has said: we will not pay the debt. Insolvency. Europe’s financial governability has ended, even if Berlusconi and Bersani reach an agreement in order to survive and keep impoverishing the country by transferring resources and wealth to the financial system. That agreement has no future, it will not last. But it is then that the worst can begin.

What do you have in mind?

The financial class will try to strangle Italy as it has done with Greece. The political crisis will be turbulent and violent. The result may be frightening. The mafia and fascism have shown they control 35% of the Italian electorate and the left no longer exists. The idea of the North’s secession will re-appear even with the Lega Nord’s collapse.

Do you see an alternative?

Yes, a process of liberating Europe from the violence of finance capital could also begin – the reconstruction of Europe on a social basis. Outside the political schemas of the 20th century, there could arise everywhere an unconventional movement for organised default and productive autonomy. An occupation momvement could transform universities into sites of practical research for finding post-capitalist solutions. The factories, which finance capital wants to destroy, could be occupied and self-managed, as was done in Argentina after 2001. The squares could be occupied so that they became sites of permanent debate.

This movement of society that you propose, would it have any programme?

The programme was set forth by Beppe Grillo, a programme which, despite what the professional liars of La Repubblica say, is very reasonable:

  • A citizen wage
  • Reduction of the working week to 30 hours.
  • The restitution to schools of the 8 billion dollars that the Berlusconi government stole from the education system.
  • Good working conditions for all precarious workers in education, health and transport.
  • Nationalisation of banks that have favoured speculation at the cost of the community.
  • Immediate abolition of the fiscal pact.

There are those who say that Grillo’s party administers the absence of movements in Italy and reproduces it.

I don’t agree with that. Must everyone stay still when society is unable to move? We shouldn’t complain because someone else is practising politics in our space, but rather practise politics and create a movement. Grillo’s party has prevented the government of financial dictatorship. Now it is the turn for the movement of society. Will society have the necessary energy and intelligence to self-manage social life with a movement of generalised occupation? If we don’t have that energy, we deserve the disaster that will come.


14 Responses

  1. michael burke

    March 1, 2013 7:31 pm

    This is a dangerous and depressing muddle.

    Grillo is not part of the solution to the crisis; he is a Rightist populist, who opposes unions, attacks immigrants and has links to fascists.

    In order to make the case, there is a resort to falsification. Not only did the electorate not vote for debt default, not a single one of the major parties advocated it.

    Making Italy ‘ungovernable’ is not and cannot be an aim of any policy, and in the current context could only possibly favour the right.

    The European left is frequently its own worst enemy; determined to delude itself there is an imminent end to the crisis, some sections of it are willing to align with all sorts of reactionary forces as its saviour.

  2. Jack

    March 1, 2013 9:26 pm

    I don’t think fascism is coming back any time soon. I mean history isn’t cyclical and the milieu of social and political factors that led to it’s rise in the 20’s/30’s just doesn’t’ exist on the continent anymore. Severe restrictions on democracy don’t automatically mean fascism. And the concept of another European war is pretty fantastical considering the M.A.D factors involved.
    But I do agree with your opinion that human conditions are reversible. There is a delusion of continious social progress that has been spoon fed to the Neo-Liberal “History is Dead” crowd that has made the left lazy. The presumption is that battles won stay won but taking, for example, the US’s recent return to and justification of torture that would have been unthinkable in the 40’s we see that even the most stringent moral positions are up for reconsideration in the light of capital.

  3. D

    March 4, 2013 9:39 am

    Jack, do you really think Fascism is unlikely to return? Fascism originally arose as a last-ditch defence of the bourgeois against socialist movements. We are seeing the development of fascistic movements all across Europe. In places like Hungary they are in government already. Even in historically anti-fascist Greece we have the growth of Golden Dawn. In the absence of a successful socialist challenge for power these movements will continue to grow.
    History is obviously not idealistically cyclical but the same configuration of class forces can give rise to similar historic trends and the evidence is that they are. Modern-day fascism focuses on Islam as the enemy to cohere its cross-class base.
    Of course history is reversible. Anyone who thinks that history only moves forward is a hopeless idealist and deeply ignorant of history. The social conditions which were conceded by the ruling class in the west in the post-war period were underpinned by material bases including globalised structures of unequal exchange and the growth in productive capacity in the same period. These are no longer sustainable and so the ruling class are demanding the working class to pay the price.

  4. Gewerkschaftler

    March 4, 2013 10:30 am

    @Micheal Burke

    “he is a Rightist populist, who opposes unions, attacks immigrants and has links to fascists.”

    I’d like to see that claim substantiated. A priori, I’d have to assume that Bifo is a little more familiar with the political situation in Italy.

    I’ve an open mind on Grillo at the moment – the demand’s that Bifo lists for a citizen wage and a 30 hour would, if realised, would profoundly alter the balance of power between capital and labour.

    And, as the man says, it was Grillo that threw a spanner in the works of continued post-democratic financial dictatorship in Italy.

  5. Gewerkschaftler

    March 4, 2013 10:38 am

    Hey ILR – nit-picking numerate calling – your software can’t count comments!

    Increasingly good content, by the way!

  6. Donagh

    March 4, 2013 11:28 am


    ““he is a Rightist populist, who opposes unions, attacks immigrants and has links to fascists.”

    I’d like to see that claim substantiated.”

    A short trip around the web reveals

    But this is worth reading in full:

    His rejection of the European Union and the euro has nothing to do with the defence of the interests of the working class, which correctly regard the EU as an instrument of the banks and the driving force behind austerity measures. Grillo defends the capitalist foundations of the economy and is trying to steer social discontent into right-wing, nationalist channels by combining his attacks on the EU with a protectionist economic policy.

    He demands: “we need to put a stop to the flight of companies abroad and we need to create the conditions for attracting foreign investment and foreign companies to come here, not to Austria and to Slovenia.”

    He also writes: “The foundation of the Italian economy is the small and medium-sized companies… They are the milch cows in a country strangled by bureaucracy… It is the bureaucracy itself that is by now an insuperable obstacle for anyone starting an enterprise. Either we start to build companies once again or we die with the decline of the welfare state.”

    The “welfare state” is understood here as an obstacle to the prosperity of the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class that has to be trimmed back. This is only possible, however, at the expense of workers, pensioners, the unemployed and youth.

    Grillo’s recurring theme—his tirades against waste, corruption, abuse of office and for “clean” politics—serves primarily to promote an authoritarian state. At no point does he identify the capitalist interests that serve these political mechanisms.

    In all his attacks on politicians and parties, he describes the entire “party system” as a “cancer on democracy.” His populism—typical of right-wing demagogues—serves to cover up the class interests served by definite parties. It is aimed above all at preventing the working class from developing its own independent, socialist and internationalist party.

    Grillo maintains that all parties are “dead souls which will disappear soon” to be replaced by his own movement “without structures, party factions and membership cards.”

    While Grillo is trying to create as much political confusion as possible, his own social status is clear. As a multi-millionaire, he is one of the wealthiest citizens in Italy. Already back in 2005 he declared a taxable annual income of nearly 4.3 million euros.

    Sorry about the numbering thing on comments. It can be very confusing, I’m sure.

    Thanks too for the comment on the content. I’ve been running this site for five years – so it’s only now that it’s starting to get better? You should read the print journal!

  7. Gewerkschaftler

    March 4, 2013 11:36 am

    Thanks Donagh,

    I put that badly. The content was always good – now even gooderer! Seriously the ILR is an essential counter to the appalingly lazy and propagandistic Irish conventional media.

    Re: the print edition: What are your international shipping rates?

    Thanks for the links. I will peruse them when I get a chance.

    • Donagh Brennan

      March 4, 2013 2:30 pm

      Thanks Gewerkschaftler – I wasn’t offended, and it was churlish of me to act as if I was when you were being so kind. I hadn’t paid too much attention to Grillo and the 5 star movement beyond superficial headlines until the election results, so those links were as much my attempt to get to grips with the story following on Michael’s comment.

  8. Gewerkschaftler

    March 4, 2013 11:40 am

    Oh – RTFM – I now see you have an ‘out of Ireland rate’.


  9. Richard

    March 4, 2013 11:45 am

    Regarding Michael Burke’s claim about the resort to falsification, the responsibility here is at least partly mine, not Franco Berardi’s. I translated ‘Insolvencia’ as ‘default’. ‘Insolvencia’ literally means insolvency or bankruptcy. In practice it means defaults or writedowns on debts. Like I said, it was a rush translation. Donagh, could you amend so that it reads the more literal ‘insolvency’?

    • Donagh Brennan

      March 4, 2013 2:38 pm

      Done Richard – and I interpreted that part of the article to refer to the reaction of the Italian electorate rather than the election campaign position of any of the parties. It’s an interpretation that the populist Grillo has taken to heart post-election it seems.

      In an interview with a German magazine, Mr Grillo warned that “if conditions do not change” Italy “will want” to leave the euro and return to the lire. The 64-year-old comic-turned-political activist also said Italy needs to renegotiate its €2 trillion debt.

      At 127 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), it is the highest in the euro zone after Greece. “Right now we are being crushed, not by the euro, but by our debt,” he told Focus, a weekly news magazine. “When the interest payments reach €100 billion a year, we’re dead. There’s no alternative.”