Alienated by Democracy

Anti-elections flyers. Turin, February 24th, 2013.

It may not have produced any results. However, few electoral races were as predicted to be as inconsequential as those held in Italy two weeks ago. Left or right victory, the results would be the same, Italians feared. That is, unless you cast your vote for the so-called ‘populist’ party, the 5 Star Movement, led by ex-TV comedian Beppe Grillo. Capturing a large percentage of the leftist vote, (along with a sizable number of ex-Berlusconi supporters) Grillo’s new party isn’t exactly revolutionary.

Dedicated to cleaning up Italy’s corrupt political system, the high numbers of votes 5 Star received (putting it in third place, behind Italy’s two largest political parties, the Partito Democratico and Il Popolo Della Liberta) nevertheless shocked the country’s political establishment, as well as the EU, which had been hoping for a center-left victory. The post-Cold War division of power, in the country’s national legislature, had changed overnight.

As much as Grillo’s victory suggested that Italian voters are still capable of voting independently, his lack of a discernible political platform, distinct from the comedian’s desired points of reform (smaller salaries for civil servants, for example, as well as political transparency) remain troubling. What not have an ideology?

To that end, Grillo’s critics, particularly from the left, have focused on the 5 Star Movement’s lack of internal democracy, its obsession with branding and communications strategies, and its use of the Internet. Were Italians who cast their vote for 5 Star snookered? Or were they simply following the evolution of a political spectacle, reflecting the chaotic nature of the country’s politics, in a time of economic crisis? If you’re to take the flyers at the top seriously, most likely the latter. Democracy, or so they argue, has become a  ruse. No matter what you do, it privileges the interests of Italy’s political elites, and those of the market, over the state.

Photographed in Turin, on the second day of Italy’s elections, these Marxist/Situationist inspired flyers do a good job of expressing the pessimism Italians feel concerning the health of their democracy. Is democracy even desirable, under present political conditions? Not in its present form, the second flyer argues. The conclusion is of course troubling. Nevertheless, it’s worth problematizing, if only to imagine how democracy might actually work, for a change.


Flyer, Left

Vote for “hearsay”

Every vote is useless

It’s the same, you just have to vote

It’s the same political system

Media falsehood

    F.I.P. Via S. Ottavio


Flyer, Right

Voters /Consumers Advisory

Only two months after the happy consumer fair, smiling faces ensuring a better existence by simply shopping, new slogans, new promises of happiness, new requests for change invade our streets and “not-our” means of communication: we are approaching elections.

And, just like (at) Christmas time, consumerism finds legitimacy in the religious feast, politics professionals build apparent ideologies, conduct campaigns devoid of content, and convince us that this time it’s enough. This time things will really change. This time it’s the right time.

Politics, built more and more on appearance, seems to be a job like any other, a mere business, with the tragic peculiarity that the consumer, that is the voter, never knows the price of his choices. And if the product doesn’t sell enough, the trader insists on the presence of new faces, of women and (the) young in their ranks, makes unlikely promises and (employs every method) to catch the listless client’s eye. Kind of like cookie brands proposing new recipes, or an additional, free 100 grams. Unfortunately, inside the package, there’s always the same shit full of hydrogenated fats.

Not only is it hard to believe that voting for one candidate, rather than the other, can make any difference. It’s constantly reported that people are estranged from the world of politics – over 90% in the early postwar period, barely 80% in 2008. (Not to mention) a widespread disillusion with the system, that has explicitly displayed its limits and ambiguities, after a period of ideological erosion, which, (following the milestone of ’89) finds its full realization in contemporary Italy.

This process (exemplifies) the loss of power and autonomy of state institutions in favor of the market. In this regard, Monti’s designation as premier is emblematic (of the situation,) a symptom of a tendency indicating that technocracy is overcoming democracy.

With the appearance of huge posters of Bersani on buildings, with television “non-debates” and with slogans (What the fuck do these slogans mean? Why is “Rising Italy” more relevant than “Optimism is the scent of life”? “Loving Italy has a cost” than “Because you are worthy”? “The right Italy” than “Take care of yourself”?) the approaching elections excites columnists and leading figures, who feel like they have been enlisted for the defense of democracy.  This one, as well as the values related to it, are presented as a rock on which to cling, in the turbulent modern world, the elections being the highest expression of freedom, and voting not only being a right, but a duty.

Besides the effects of such a system, it’s necessary to question the dogmas constituting its foundation.  Exposed to an electoral campaign resembling a supermarket shelf, it makes us wonder if other options than the ones we’re offered. How can we find them?

It will not be the vote for A’, A” or A”’ (the use of different letters would imply that there are substantial differences among the candidates) to change the future of a society. The vote itself has lost so much value that it’s even hard to consider it as a proxy. In this situation (voting means) acceptance, passivity and indifference.

The separation between the real world and politics, and the will to change, represent the incentives to take a political course in which the first step may be the refusal of the democratic masquerade, this being a choice that should be followed by others based on activism and on constructing alternatives.

Abstention from voting, demonized by many as acceptance of the current situation, is in fact, for us, (the) editors of CFS, the result of the realization necessary to propose real alternatives, based on self-organization and confrontation. That not only does not preclude, but instead (creates)  the (possibility) for political action.


Translated from the Italian by Giulia Pace. Introduction and photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit.

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