One million or five million people come out into the streets. Numbers apart, is such an event of any importance? No, I don’t think so at all.
Far from the old Sorelian myth, a general strike is not in itself a response by the exploited to the intentions of Power.
It is far more likely to mean something else. Let us see what.
First of all it is a sign of the capacity of the personalist politics presently being regenerated to bring millions of people into the streets. An instrument of political pressure therefore, in the hands of possible new power bases to co-opt the old or take their place. Nothing would change. From the point of view of the management of public spending—by no means of secondary importance—there can be no solution other than that (moreover only provisional) of dipping into the coffers of the rich, and not just those of high profile, but also the ones who keep themselves hidden. Can a political class, no matter how new and alien to concessions from its own pockets, succeed in doing as much? No it can’t. So what are these millions of people in the streets actually asking for? To what power games are they wittingly or unwittingly lending themselves?
It is clear that there is no real collective presence in the various regions in Italy that have been loosely united in a general strike, so we cannot talk as though it were related to one individual or a group of individuals. But something needs to be said all the same.
The main composition of this presence, although it is not uniform or homogenous, is that of the waged classes who are afraid of losing their jobs, those already excluded (and destined to perennial unemployment), the youth element (aspiring to guaranteed jobs, and which they will continue to do), pensioners (who see themselves as deprived of the few rights they had), in support of the unions and the parties of the left who are desperately seeking a place within the opposition, but to no avail. And the latter might get this possibility, with the good shopkeeping common sense of all those who believe that things can be put right (first with Berlusconi and now without him). And having brought Fini’s fascists into government along with Bossi’s idiots and Berlusconi’s technocrats and image manipulators, they are now regretting it, and trying to apply pressure by demonstrating their dissent. That might all be useful to the new opposition when they manage to find their own identity. But how can it mean anything in terms of the reality of things which could, and yes, radically should, be changed?
By rendering service to politicians who have been thrown out, making out that they deserved so much fuss? Of course not. The means would have to be quite different.
Restricting the question to the streets, because that is what we are talking about, the outcome, or at least the preoccupations at government level, would have been quite different if they had found themselves faced with situations such as in the days of piazza Statuto, or Reggio Emilia [where demonstrations turned to rebellion, resulting in the police firing into the crowd]. Not that mass violence in itself—in the form of clashes with the police—were the main means, so the results were predictable even then. What we are saying is more complex. The message contains its own destiny. As a method, the demonstration on its own has no future, because it merely aims to put pressure on the government for a change in the political class in power. The direct clash is a different method altogether, even if it can also be blocked, recuperated or defeated with the guile of promises or brute repression. But that is another question, it opens up a different kind of rupture.
It would certainly be more difficult for the unspeakable Berlusconi to recuperate with a smile on his face.
He would have to roll his sleeves up. And then, one thing could lead to another, and so on...
[Original title: Il significato di un evento insignificante, in “Canenero”, no. 1, 28 October 1994. English translation by Jean Weir published in "Let's destroy work, let's destroy economy", Elephant Editions, London.]