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Francesco Brancaccio, Alberto De Nicola, Francesco Raparelli, "The Third Republic of Movements"

The Third Republic of Movements: Considerations on the alternative and the constituent conflict in Italy
Francesco Brancaccio, Alberto De Nicola, Francesco Raparelli

Following the events of October 15th the main challenge the Movement faces is to avoid being pressed in the grip of simplification and strict dichotomy, and at the same time to preserve its open and varied nature. We believe this risk has been outlined better than elsewhere in the editorial by Piero Ostellino published by Corriere della Sera. Ostellino uses the riots that took place during the demonstration to worn that there is no possibility of transforming the present beyond the choice between civil war or respectful reform of representative democracy and of the capitalist market rules

Tertium non datur. Even radical conflict, when it comes onto the scene, is bound to follow one of these two paths sooner or later, leaving behind any ambition to modify social relations.

Moving from this premise we believe that it is of crucial importance today, more that in the past, to explore in depth the concept of the political category going under the name of "alternative", since this is what should occupy the position excluded from the game in Ostellino’s view. This imperative is easily understood: the historic phase we are experiencing is marked by the structural crisis of Neo-liberal capitalism, involving the foundations of the social and economic system as well as the institutional system, established in these past thirty years. This crisis is accompanied by a widespread awareness that it is not possible for anyone to turn back anymore. Discussion about the alternative is compulsory if we wish to seriously acknowledge the radical nature of this historic moment. This imperative is also, and this must be clear, very ambiguous: in fact the political category of the alternative summarizes a variety of meanings and different options, all potentially diverging.

1. The statue of revolt
An assumption we find useful to start from point is found in Fausto Bertinotti’s articles in Manifesto: the political and institutional dimension is currently locked into an enclosure with no way out. Within this enclosure, the direct expression of the financial governance (evident in the letters to the Italian government from the ECB), no truly alternative government practice is possible. Least of all is it possible the resort, way past the deadline, to political options attempting the rehabilitation of representative democracy, which has been in crisis for a long time and is currently forced to face the terminal phase of its decline. Only a "revolt", if it were capable of breaking the scene of compatibility, would produce a rethinking of politics itself.

This view, which we mostly share, does however require a few specifications. The first one being, at the origin, that the condition imposed by the financial governance by holding hostage the governments is not in the least reducible to a "field invasion" in the political sphere. It is if anything the expression and the counterpart of the interpenetration of financial economy and real finance that has redefined the forms of capital accumulation. The pervasive influence of finance (both on an economic scale as well as on a political one) is the result of a crisis (much previous to the current one) regarding the inability on the one hand to exploit productive forces undergoing radical change, and on the other to govern populations that have proved, over time, the inadequacy of the forms of organization and regulation of power. What is hastily called the "dominance of finance" is in fact a new form of withdrawal (of wealth and of decision power) operating on unprecedented forms of existence, all the more authoritarian as the old social organizational schemes reveal their inability to organize and command lives. This means that the crisis, both economic and political, is not at all the expression of an exceptional state, but is in fact the short-circuit within the new order, solidified long ago.

This first specification is closely linked to another one, downstream as to say, regarding the statue of revolt. If it’s true that the crisis is deep rooted and involves the transformation of the forms of capital accumulation and government, the role attribute to the "revolt" cannot be limited merely to a function of de-structuring, be it the de-structuring of the political and economical enclosure. We do not intend to attribute such thoughts to the former President of the Chamber of Deputies, but we are however interested in exposing one of the possible interpretations of his thought. This wrong interpretation could be schematically summarized as follows: only revolt, by breaking the compatibility that is tying down the functions of government, can reactivate sovereignty and with it the legitimacy of political and social representation. We consider this interpretation disputable and inadequate as it cannot account for the nature of the new social movements.

In the same way, we consider the insurrectionist rhetoric spreading on the web in these days to be inadequate. In fact, this type of logic moves from an oversimplified reading of the current situation, according to which the increase of intensity of the crisis extends the sphere of the social rage, which in turn tends to be expressed in a symmetric "hand to hand fight" with the state: the variety of forms of conflict are reduced to this single image of civil war. The generic and undifferentiated idea of revolt as an "outburst" strangely becomes, in both cases, the key passage behind the blind interruption of sovereign order and its "rehabilitation" at the same time. Both these readings, although deriving from opposite points of view, seem to share the same "myth of the State" that Foucault already conveniently dissolved by focusing the attention on the reality of government. In other words, even though this may appear as a paradox, what reunites these readings so different from each other is the idea that revolts are to be interpreted as the expression of an essentially revoking power.

A line of reasoning about the political category of the alternative should instead begin from the opposite assumption, from the acknowledgement of the constituent nature of social turmoil. This constituent nature,institutional and regulatory, is clearly visible in movement experiences ranging from Spain to Iceland (the later a case in which the democratic claim to refuse-renegotiate the default develops into a constituent rule), to the fights of workers in the entertainment rewriting the statue of an occupied theatre, and of university students launching a process of auto-reform of the university, to the extraordinary experience of the Italian referendum last June. These and other experiences yet describe a precise need for change that aims at braking the same two phase old politics that attributes an essentially negative and defensive function to conflict and assigns the mandate to translate demands coming from below to representative politics. Setting the political discourse on the level of the alternative has no other meaning than to question the exhaustion of this "double timing", enabling us to convey the creation of experiences of revolt and effective balance of power within a trajectory of transformation.

2. The movement and the Italian transition
Now, we need to set these premises in the context of the so called "Italian anomaly". In fact in Italy we face a complex but nevertheless exciting challenge: we are witnessing negotiations and attempts to form political alliances with the aim to reconstruct the political scene and secure the passage to the Third Republic, eliminating precisely the constituent force that springs from movements. Aside from the shape it will take, this picture will be built on the same premises (technical government, coalition government, Nuovo Ulivo, assuming there are differences between them): commitment to pay the debt, the balanced budget constitutional amendment, a model of social pact that follows the guidelines set by the agreement between Confindustria and the unions signed on June 28, implementation of the austerity measures and privatization of public goods, as dictated by the main financial institutions. If this picture is not pre-emptively questioned, any participation by the movements, even when positive, is destined to fail bitterly.

Nevertheless, we mustn’t abandon this level, however difficult it may be: we must strive to understand how the social movements can fit in the transition. In our opinion there are two fronts that must be open to debate.

The first front regards the current transformation of the Welfare State. It is not enough to note that the austerity policies are contributing to its dismantlement. It is much more interesting to begin with the idea that welfare today is in a totally different relationship with the production system than it was historically at the time of its creation. Some economists (among them Boyer, Marazzi and Vercellone) have applied the term "anthropogenetic model" to an emerging economic system based more and more on services centred around production by man for man, such as healthcare, education, culture, security and so on. If we accept this hypothetical model, which is confirmed by the centrality these sectors have in determining growth, it is immediately clear that the current transformation of welfare does not regard sectors "close to" the productive processes, but defines these sectors as absolutely central. The modification and privatization of welfare is in other terms the grounds for revitalizing capital accumulation. The attention with which the financial markets are dealing with this is no coincidence. Transformation of the welfare system is a result of an accelerated break-up of the so-called wage-based society on the one hand (unpaid work, private debt, the precarious nature of employment are a clear example of this, and have been so for some time), and on the other of the interruption of public funding which is determining the crisis of the public sector (hospitals, universities and schools, cultural sites). Movements seem to have understood this tendency very well, so much that their action is focusing not only on the claim for guaranteed income not linked to employment wages, but is also focusing, at a deeper level, on the democratic repossession of those public institutions. We have previously listed a few examples: all that needs to be said about these struggles is that while defending what has been brought to its knees by austerity policies, they are re-writing the managerial practices in the places they occupy, re-defining the nature of the subjects taking part in the production of public services, increasing and socializing access to them, and promoting a new form of common property, an alternative to privatisation as much as to the old state management. Starting from these local experiences that we believe will continue to prosper, we can start to imagine a Federation of new social institutions.

We think it is crucially important to revive thought and debate on a new post-State federalism, not to be interpreted as a model or form of government, but on the contrary as a horizontal and open process, resulting from pacts capable of involving a plurality of powers, subjects and institutions with a constituent potential ab origine. A form of federalism, to say it in the words of Luciano Ferrari Bravo, conceived as a concentration of non centralized power, cutting across transversally and recombining territorial and social dimensions. Within the Italian context, this topic is an urgent and relevant one in any serious discussion about the alternative, unless federalism is to be considered achieved with the reform of the Title V of the Constitution, or even worse, with the current debate on fiscal federalism. The sphere of local authority, strangled in the grip of government funding cuts, is a good candidate for a first significant passage.

3. A Constitution for the next twenty years
Secondly, we must realistically acknowledge that the next step towards the Third Republic is already marked by an actual constitutional transition. The introduction of the balanced budget "golden rule" in the Constitution, along with the reform of the articles regulating free enterprise, describe a regressive process that affects its substance. The Italian economic constitution will be profoundly changed by this process. Why not enter the process of transition overturning its course?

We are addressing this issue in spite of our awareness concerning the crisis of the democratic constitutions, be they mere interfaces mediating between State and society, or, more materially, the result of a compromise between political, economic and social subjects (the Welfare State). This crisis, like every crisis, has most certainly not produced a void. New institutonalism currents of thought within the field of legal science have observed for some time now that the crisis has been accompanied by the emergence of new constitutional devices, fragmenting and surpassing the state-nation perimeter, and blurring the line that used to separate public from private law. On these premises, a level of discourse that does not directly involve the European and international dimension is clearly unsatisfactory.

Ultimately, we are aware that in Italy the debate around transition has mostly been misleading: the leitmotif of the so-called institutional reforms that has characterized the political debate in our country for the past twenty years, has been used to deny any possible re-opening of a true constituent process at the roots. We are stuck half way: the First Republic seems to have never really ended, and the Second to have never taken shape, if not in a distorted and deviated way. In substance the term transition has been used to block the possibility of real transformation.

This is why we believe that the legitimate and sharable effort to defend the 1948 Constitution is, in this picture, a very weak prospect. If movements today present an institutional and regulatory nature active outside of the known track of representation, it is also true that conflict must create a political process with the aim to acknowledge and elaborate, and not to recover, the decline of political party forms, working in the direction of an institutional restructuring. It is necessary to start with the idea that the material constitution has by now radically changed, with the appearance of new social subjects insisting on a common level which is already political. In the same way, a new Constitution, which would preserve the most advanced aspects in the previous one, could represent the highest meeting point for the re-composition of the multiple demands brought forth by present and future struggles. We intend a new Constitution as lever for the beginning of a political process, not as its final result, and not merely as a formal and procedural matter (maintaining the openness of the political and legal dimension tracing the distinction between constituent power and constitution itself.)

The hegemonic nature of the manifesto contained in the expression Common Goods, ratified by the referendum victory, should be the infrastructure of this new Constituent. During the French Revolution, article 28 in the 1793 Constitution, which was never applied, read: "A people has the right to review, reform and change its Constitution. A generation can not subject future generations to its laws". A few years before, in the United States, Thomas Jefferson, in opposing the proposal for re-election of the Union’s President, expressed the hope that the Constitution be completely revised ‘every twenty years’. In renewing this ‘constituent tension’, we believe that debate on the alternative must be faced, as this is the demand being voiced by the Indignant protests worldwide.

[translated by Sarah Gainsforth]