Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Politics of Berlusconismo.

La Rivoluzione Culturale 

For Italy the "End of History" did not just mean the end of the Cold War, the triumph of liberal democracy and global capitalism, it meant the end of politics as it had been experienced for decades. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a kind of domino-effect in Italy, in which the Communist Party collapsed in 1991 and then the Christian Democrats disintegrated in 1994 after the biggest corruption scandal in post-war Italian history. The Establishment was shaken to it's core. The Americans had withdrawn the Cold War level of support for the forces of reaction. The aim of which was to prevent the rise of Eurocommunism in Italy, which was a significant attempt by the Communist Party to take an independent line from the Soviet Union; to embrace the democratic norms of Western Europe and differentiate itself from Trotskyism at the same time. All alternatives to late capitalism were ruled out completely as 'failed experiments' as the mainstream politics collapsed and then came the emergence of Silvio Berlusconi.

The Italian version of Rupert Murdoch soon launched Forza Italia just as the five parties which had governed Italy since 1947 imploded. Since winning a term in 1994 Berlusconi has changed Italy in ways which were unimaginable before Tangentopoli. As social democracy began to 'disappear' the discourse narrowed to the point that the spectrum runs from technocratic liberalism to reactionary populism. The mass-media has been complicit in the imposition of a new discourse narrowed to benefit a regenerated band of old politicians in a supposedly post-ideological era. Berlusconi went even further to fuse technocratic liberalism with reactionary populism. As politics are rendered an apolitical spectacle in which the minimal dignity of state authority is obliterated and the state is left to function as cynically as possible. Ironically it was Berlusconi who was behind the "cultural revolution" in Italy. To paraphrase Erik Gandini, the TV empire Berlusconi built subjected the Italian people to a culture which is a reflection of Berlusconi himself.

The crisis of the early 90s also facilitated the rise of Lega Nord, a secessionist pack of racists, in precisely the working-class areas of Northern Italy which had supported the Communists. These are the natural allies of Berlusconi. It appears that Silvio Berlusconi has a knack for reawakening the darkest tendencies in Italian politics. It was Berlusconi who also brought self-described "post-Fascist" Gianfranco Fini in from the cold in 1994. Until last year, if Berlusconi had died of a Viagra-overdose he would have been succeeded by a man who considers himself the heir to Benito Mussolini. So beneath the buffoonery of the regime there is a sinister strand in which Silvio Berlusconi is truly at home, in the grizzly shit under the surface of the public persona which has been enhanced over the years through plastic surgery and hair-dye. Remember it was Berlusconi who first said "What is on TV exists, what is not on TV does not exist."

As Gandini goes onto explain, il Cavaliere is linked with il Duce on a physical wavelength as both of them were very physical in a way that Italian politicians are not normally. Berlusconi used his body language, his virility and even his smile to reach people in a way that the bespectacled politicians of the Establishment cannot. He resurrected the same kind of physicality as Mussolini. All the while he remains totally contemporary, Berlusconi belongs to the post-political era of savvy managerialism which can easily be imported from the TV industry. In the world of television it is all about emotive imagery and the consequent impressions. The way Berlusconi used the attack on him in Milan served him well, the scandals were 'disappeared' from the media for a while and he could play the victim even as he is the most privileged man in the country. It is about gut reactions, passions and rages. This is the way to turn TV stars into politicians as Berlusconi has done in the past.

As il Cavaliere has resurrected the "Fascism Lite" of Italy, so it could be that he embodies Italian ultra-politics. Slavoj Žižek would specifically designate forms of right-wing populism and fascism as ultra-politics. The ultra-political leader is charged as the commander-in-chief to destroy the enemy, a military task that forms the basis of his legitimacy. Rather than the regulated opposition between social antagonists, the political here requires the physical destruction of enemies. The enemy is whoever poses a threat to our way of life, which is decided by the leader. As ultra-politics is authoritarian by definition, the depoliticisation of conflict is accomplished through the militarisation of politics. This is done as the conflict is reformulated as between "us" and "them", where there is no common ground for symbolic conflict. The class struggle is reformulated in order to instigate a working-class rebellion against the corrupt elites and the corrosive effects of immigration.

Silvio Berlusconi presents himself as the stereotypical Italian male: corrupt, sexually promiscuous and bombarded by legal problems. To the average voter, this says "I am one of you." The mockery of politics along with the larger than life persona of Berlusconi functions to depoliticise the most political of events. The persona feeds into the populist paranoia of anti-communism and anti-immigrant campaigns.  Anyone who opposes him - which includes the majority of the population - is a part of the corrupt elite of communists which has imposed immigration on Italy and wants to open the floodgates of African immigrants into the country. The anti-political tendency in society can bifurcate into two seemingly separate strands, business-oriented authoritarianism in one corner and militant anti-statism in the next. The potential forms of which each take can be horrifying, just take the Oklahoma City Bombing which was a reaction of the angry white men against Big Government that was to hold responsible for all evils in society.

It is not that Berlusconismo is purely anti-political or ultra-political, but rather it is the apex at which anti-politics meet ultra-politics in a way which has changed Italy in ways that were unimaginable before Tangentopoli. The natural reaction to the unprecedented corruption scandal in a post-political age was disillusionment with the political class in general and despair at the Establishment. The anti-political Forza Italia offered a libertarian line originally, which was highly popular in the North. Typically the party consisted of the cynics who once filled the ranks of the fallen Establishmentarian parties and has picked up the vote of the disillusioned. The rise of Berlusconi as a political force has complimented the "cultural revolution" - which turned his values into national values - he had already achieved before he ever ran for office. The fallout from the Cold War necessitated a resurgence of the radical Right as the only force which could take-up the popular appeals of class against the Left.

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