At about the same time Syriza was rising in Greece, the Five Star Movement (M5S) was on the ascent in Italy. Led by comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, the new party seemed like the best hope in 2013 for exploding the Brussels hive mind.
Then Syriza captivated the media and the political left; this, combined with M5S's underwhelming showing in 2014 elections for the European Parliament, moved the party off the front burner.
Now -- after the spectacular failure of Syriza, the diffident performance of Spain's Podemos, the rise of right-wing populism in Europe (Austria's Freedom Party is challenging May's election loss), the triumph of the corporate media behemoth over Bernie Sanders' millennials, and many other disappointments -- besides the Scottish National Party, there seems little to celebrate in terms of elections in the West, other than the Five Star Movement. The Brexit vote coming up is a big deal. But the left is split on whether to stay in the EU or go. (I say go.)
I ask people I know who pay attention to the news the following question -- "How much longer can the dominant neoliberal paradigm last?" Everyone so far has replied, "A lot longer." Tariq Ali agrees.
The basic question as I frame it is "Six or 60?" Does the corporate-dominated predatory capitalist system which is vacuuming up all the wealth to the top of the pyramid and destroying the planet survive for six years, say early to middle 2020s, or six decades, at which time many agree that the effects of climate change -- sea-level rise and acidifying oceans -- will demand a huge, paradigm-shifting coordinated response?
The reason I favor the near-term shift is I can't see how the present system lasts beyond four years. First off, the party system throughout the West is collapsing. Granted, charismatic, rejuvenating leadership championing popular policies could rise from within the discredited mainstream Christian Democrats, Labourites, Tories, Socialists and Tea Party Republicans, but there is zero evidence for this. So sooner rather than later a minor party will rise to the top and lead, successfully or not, in such a way that it will create a fissure in the dominant paradigm. If not a Brexit on June 23, then Marine Le Pen in 2017 or Alternative for Germany. An EU subservient to U.S. global hegemony becomes much harder to imagine.
Secondly, the U.S.-led warfare state cannot keep multiplying and maintaining its many theaters of conflict. The fall of Saigon led to an adjustment and correction in the way that the U.S. conducted war. There was a decade-plus pause and reset. Does the fall of Kabul lead to the same type of timeout? Unlikely. But there is a limit to what the U.S. can manage in the way of mayhem. Already the blow black from its wars in the Middle East and North Africa is diminishing support for the major parties of Europe.
Below is a helpful primer on the Five Star Movement that appeared a couple days ago on the Europe Online web site. Having kept an eye out for M5S over the last several years, I find it accurate:
Rome (dpa) - Italy‘s Five Star Movement (M5S) is one of the most successful anti-establishment parties in Europe, whose main rallying cries are clean politics, direct democracy, euroscepticism and basic income support for all.
"We are normal citizens like you, and this normality is scary" for the establishment, Virginia Raggi, who topped a first round of elections for the Rome mayoralty on Sunday, said at her closing campaign rally last week.
Founded in 2009 by Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, a shadowy internet consultant who died in April, the M5S shot to national prominence after taking a surprise 25 per cent of the votes in the 2013 general elections.
The movement defies left-right categorizations, and shuns alliances with other parties, which it sees as fundamentally corrupt. It is also critical of banks, big corporations, free trade agreements and wants a referendum on Italy‘s exit from the eurozone.
The movement‘s defining characteristic is its reliance on internet consultations among its supporters to select its candidates and political priorities, which are communicated online via Grillo‘s blog.
But critics have accused Grillo and Casaleggio of using the system arbitrarily and quashing internal dissent. Out of the 163 M5S lawmakers elected in 2013, some 37 have either been expelled or have walked out of the party.
In 2014, the M5S hoped for an electoral breakthrough in elections for the European Parliament, which did not come. It won 21 per cent of the vote, against a record 41 per cent for the ruling Democratic Party (PD).
In this month‘s local elections, the M5S led polls in Rome and came a strong second in Turin, but fared poorly in other big cities like Milan and Naples, suggesting that it still has some way to go before building a strong national base.
In the EU assembly, M5S lawmakers have formed the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group with the British eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the German anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.
The death of Casaleggio, who acted as a behind-the-scenes strategist, has raised questions about the future of M5S, but plans to prepare a younger cadre of party members to take over the leadership have been under way for some time.
After saying in 2014 that he was "a bit tired," Grillo has cut down on campaigning, giving more space to the M5S‘ rising stars, such as lawmakers Alessandro Di Battista and Luigi Di Maio. Tellingly, the 67-year-old comic stayed out of Raggi‘s campaign finale in Rome.
Di Maio, a 29-year-old deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, is seen as the most likely M5S prime ministerial candidate for the next general elections, due within the next two years. Grillo has always refused to run for office.