"Rousseau" returns... as the digital core of Italy's Five Star Movement


 Fascinating report in the FT (paywalled link, but here's a PDF of the piece) asking questions about Italy's Five Star Movement - the network-centric party, kicked off by the blogging of comedian Beppo Grillo, but now seriously contending for power through Italy's proportional system (and an imminent general election). 

The FT is being properly investigatory towards the internal structures of 5StarM - the distinction between its tight core of directors and controllers, and its wide culture of digital consultation of members. But we were struck by the achievement of the custom-made tech platform they use, built for them by volunteer (but also self-interested business entrepreneur) Davide Cassaleggio, the son of the recently deceased Gianroberto (who helped found 5StarM).

Excerpt below:

The nerve centre of Five Star’s structure is Rousseau — Gianroberto’s brainchild and an internet platform named after the 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who championed direct, as opposed to representative, democracy. Through Rousseau, Five Star selects party members, holds online votes for candidates in local, regional and national elections, allows people to propose and comment on legislation, and receives donations.

This year, members have also voted on Five Star’s platform for the next election, on everything from energy to banking to foreign affairs. Rousseau is Five Star’s pride and joy, and a system that has attracted interest from other populist movements around Europe. The only possible parallels so far are the “pirate parties” of Germany and Sweden, though they never attained Five Star’s strength and favoured the use of open-source software, which is not the case with Rousseau.

“I say this with great humility, but equally great firmness: there is nothing similar in the world, no one else has ever created such a way of aggregating people and ideas as us”, said Danilo Toninelli, another Five Star lawmaker."

 As this Open Democracy article shows, combine such network power with a resonant and simple message - about the corruption of existing Italian political parties, and the need to be morally superior to the existing system - and the "new politics" becomes very tangible indeed. Who will make a move on a similar basis, and using similar strategies, in the UK (though our terrible electoral system, at least at Westminster, mitigates against it)?