Berlusconism without Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini

The London Review of Books blog published an article we wrote to dispel some dangerously hopeful fantasies on Berlusconi’s decline.

People ask us: Is this the end for Berlusconi? And we answer: No, it isn’t. Not necessarily. And even if it were, it wouldn’t be the end of Berlusconism as a fetishistic mass cult, an ideological current in Italian life and a certain way of using the media.
The most likely outcome is Berlusconism without Berlusconi. His former allies who are strong-arming him into resigning as prime minister are preparing a continuation of Berlusconism by other means. Gianfranco Fini, the former neo-fascist who is now being idolised even by some left-wing amnesiacs, is yet another Man of Destiny pretending to have come to town this morning. People seem to forget that Fini is still the man who was in alliance with Berlusconi for 16 years; who took advantage of Berlusconi’s conflict of interests; who voted for every shameful bill on employment, the environment, the judiciary and so on; who supported the police in every case of brutality against demonstrators, strikers or prison inmates; and who personally devised two very repressive pieces of legislation: the Bossi-Fini Act on immigration and the Fini-Giovanardi Act on drugs. In Italy, amnesia rules.

Read the rest on the LRB blog.


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  1. Wu Ming says:

    Here’s a comment we left on the LRB blog, we deem it important to paste it here as well:

    “Berlusconism without Berlusconi” means that Berlusconism is something bigger (and more complex) than Berlusconi. It is much more than simply having Berlusconi as prime minister. Thinking that “Berlusconism” means Berlusconi would be the really lazy assumption.

    Berlusconi is certainly not a cause of the current situation: he’s a consequence. He was *created* by cultural, social and political devices that pre-existed him.
    In a way, a potential for “Berlusconism” had been (and will be) there all the time. This has to do with the very peculiar condition of Italy during and immediately after the Cold War. Anti-communism is certainly a major key to understand the chemical reactions that took place in the country. Half of the country was ready to welcome whomever they saw as an alternative to an undefined, phantomatic “Communism” that threatened the nation during the 1992-93 crisis.

    In this context, “Communism” has little to do with actual Marxist parties or movements (they were reduced to irrelevancy long ago). “Communism” is more or less everything that contrasts the hegemony of “amoral familism” and the Italian middle class’ chronical lack of civic spirit. Berlusconi was a product of Italian life and history, a catalyst for mass fantasies of boundless enjoyment and selfish conduct.
    It certainly isn’t by chance that Berlusconi keeps warning his constituency of sinister communist plots, accusing all his foes of being communists etc. He’s not a complete idiot, he knows what he’s doing.

    The “Discourse of Berlusconi” wouldn’t have been possible in any other context. It wouldn’t have been possible without a vast mass of citizens ready to accept such an uncanny forest of double binds. They are the same double binds of amoral familism and mafia thinking.

    Thus, “Berlusconism” in the broad sense is:
    – a peculiarly Italian ideological (and anthropological) synthesis of “anti-communism”, amoral familism and hyper-modern capitalism.
    – a populist movement that will certainly undergo some transformations after the demise of its eponymous leader, but this doesn’t mean that it will cease to exist. “Peronism” keeps existing in Argentina long after Peron’s death.
    – a view of the world that had Berlusconi as the perfect top representative and will not last long without new (albeit lesser) representatives.

    Fini is not a Berlusconist in the strictest sense (at least, he no longer is). But he is still a Berlusconist in the broader sense. If you don’t like the term, we might call him a “post-Berlusconist”. What must be clear in everyone’s mind is that, all over the country, there is no right-wing or centre-right politician who in the past 16 years wasn’t heavily compromised with Berlusconi’s politics and Berlusconism as a movement and an ideology. Wells have been poisoned for a long time, and these people can’t pretend to have been elsewhere. They were among the poisoners. They helped provide the poison and the map of wells.


We are the Wu Ming Foundation, a collective of writers based in Italy. We are the authors of several novels and non-fiction books written with literary techniques (which we prefer to describe as UNOs, Unidentified Narrative Objects). As of May 2015, four of our novels are available in English: Q, 54, Manituana and Altai. This used to be our supremely neglected blog in English. Ugly and no longer updated after May 2013. Our livelier, regularly updated blog is in Italian and it's called Giap. For stuff in other languages, check out our blog on Tumblr.

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