by Loris Puccio Conti

The issue's positioning

On the one hand, street demonstrations rage, EU flags are burned, and a trembling voice from below, eager for renewal and filled with hope, echoes. On the other, there is a parable of attitudes aimed, initially, at ignoring the events and, later, at labeling them snobbishly as an expression of "immaturity," "ignorance," "fascism," and "the return of Middle Ages."

The script is always the same and, in more recent times, has pointed to farmer protests in the starring role. Unlike previous installments - the demonstrations of the "pitchforks," populist activism on social networks and mobilizations against anti-Covid serums - from the mosques of political correctness came screeches of lesser intensity. In this sense, it was perhaps intended from the upper echelons to change strategy, to no longer resort to the old "reductio ad Hitlerum" and to depotentiate, rather, the threat, omitting its more anti-European undertones and emphasizing its more "local" aspects, in instrumental opposition to a government guilty of proceeding more or less slowly on the steel structures of the rails, on the path toward realized globalism.

The allusion is clearly turned to Walter Benjamin and his famous metaphor of revolution as the emergency brake of a train hurtling toward the abyss. If, however, the eternal opposition between legal country and real country, center and periphery, dominant and dominated, square and palace-or whatever you want to call it-nothing portends possible recourse to the brake or derailments of any kind.

Discontent nonetheless runs rampant, the squares periodically fill up, and, overall, the class struggle continues to exist even in current capitalism and to manifest itself in the guise of farmer tractors, in a form that in all likelihood is already wedging itself into the same cul-de-sac as the aforementioned previous installments.

The current middle classes: position in the social pyramid, political ineptitude, and addiction to crass material well-being

At the top of the social pyramid obviously reside the oligarchs of the West, a stateless microscopic class, holders of huge financial capital, ultimate deciders of the fate of this part of the globe and winners of that new class struggle at times well outlined by Luciano Gallino. This minority holds its supremacy by leaning on the victorious part of the middle class, on that stratum of the population - roughly 15 percent - able to emerge from the tide of globalization and the most recent technological revolutions with their degrees and their positions, first and foremost, in the world of entertainment, academia, art and information. Precisely some nuances of this emergence, with all its smoky three-T banner (Talent, Technology and Tolerance), were the focus of Richard Florida's naive and unrealistic praise at the beginning of the millennium. After a 15-year period, however, the author noted the inevitable demise of this social stratum, its entrenchment in the inner cities, its intolerance of the lower classes and the general increase of inequality in the background.

At the base of the social structure reside the broad middle classes, immediately above than the ditch of the most destitute and socially excluded minorities, immigrants in primis. This broad class includes the necessarily "resilient" and "flexible" broad masses, lacking a stable employment position and solid anchorage to a land or identity (beyond the more and more fragile economic and intangible assets inherited from previous generations). These are the losers of globalization and the new financial and tertiary-driven economy but, at the same time, they are the beneficiaries of an existential condition of relative well-being amidst the constant out-of-town trips, digital dancing and choreography in imitation of the new social networking starlettes, Erasmus experiences, "food and drink," and the enjoyment of various playful moments. In reference to this extended state of affairs, Luca Ricolfi goes so far as to speak of a "genteel mass society," a social system in which a capitalist structure and some typically feudal elements (prevalence of unemployment, economic recession, and the spread of opulent consumption) prevail at the same time.

Within this framework, it is crucial to emphasize the apolitical and passive character of these broad middle classes, their supine adherence to capitalism and political correctness. The high rates of electoral abstentionism nor the inherent ineptitude of protest movements in the last 15 years are not accidental in this regard. A part of this broad middle class, in fact, has given rise to a series of demonstrations - "pitchforks," populisms and the latest "tractors" - that have never been able to affect the institutional arrangements nor the socioeconomic balances of any country. In the final instance, delving into the psychology of this class, it also becomes difficult to find valid stimuli to foment subversion, break out of the fences erected by the professionals of information and "Science" and, conversely, jeopardize a system that is nonetheless capable of guaranteeing fair levels of well-being.

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The anti-bourgeois bias of the dominant narrative and the confusion between the current middle classes and the 20th century petty bourgeoisie

The defeated and non-aligned broad middle classes are "toothless" (Hollande), a "basket of deplorables" (Hillary Clinton) and "beasts" (Eugenio Scalfari).

Such epithets authentically show the intolerance, snobbery and low moral character of the hegemonic minority and are punctually dusted off as soon as a movement not aligned with globalism and its woke dogmas arises. Here, in an atmosphere of apocalyptic tension, a narrative advances that the "belly of the people" hangs democracy by a thread, gives birth to the specter of fascism and gives vent to the most barbaric and irrational tendencies. The sentinels of "Science" and information thus ascend the cathedra and draw improbable parallels between the scenarios of the moment and the events preceding fascisms, lagers and other tragedies of the first half of the last century.

Underlying this narrative subsists the instrumental (or unwitting) confusion made between the current middle classes and its predecessor more or less in direct line, the petty bourgeoisie of the last century. The latter, in diametrical opposition to the present middle classes, lived within a capitalism of an industrial, national and conservative character and showed a marked propensity for political mobilization - for the most part trying to integrate itself into the thriving economic and institutional system of the time and harboring, in the minority, equally fascist and communist anxieties (in this sense, it is no coincidence that the social background of Gramsci and Mussolini was the same). It is precisely to this pronounced propensity for political mobilization that that anti-bourgeois prejudice coined by progressive intellectuals of the time and, to some extent, also reproposed by today's dominant narrative refers.

It is possible to identify in an article by Gaetano Salvemini that appeared in "La Voce" in 1911-"La piccola borghesia intellettuale nel Mezzogiorno d'Italia"-the beginning, or at any rate a founding moment, of the prejudicial hostility in question. Here the Molfettese intellectual constructed at will a contrast in Lombrosian sauce between a petty bourgeoisie with degenerate physical traits and empty, cowardly morality and a southern peasant class with sharp intelligence and sculpted physiques comparable even to those of the "miles quadratus" of Roman times. Then it was the turn of Luigi Salvatorelli and his famous theories on the typical "illiteracy" of the humanistic petty bourgeoisie and its natural confluence with fascism. In the meantime, Gobetti took the chair and launched all his screeches in pedagogical and oico-phobic sauce against our own petty bourgeoisie, guilty of not professing Protestantism and being, on the contrary, afflicted with supposedly incurable moral diseases (transformism, immaturity, parasitism, provincialism...). In his usual intolerant and violent manner, Gramsci instead cut shorter and dismissed the poor bourgeoisie as a mere "monkey people." Then, in the following years, Lukács' famous inquisitorial work was published, which essentially constructed an inescapable connection between the bourgeoisie, irrationalism, reaction and national socialism.

Thus, if yesterday there was blathering around "literacy illiteracy," the "virtues" of Protestantism, and the irrationality and vulgarity of the petty bourgeoisie, nowadays a similar narrative centered on the myths of "functional illiteracy," German and pro-European austerity, alarm linked to the "belly of the people," and a return to fascism is being played out on the unified networks.

Thus, the unmasking of the groundlessness of this narrative and, conversely, the awareness of the strong limitations of the current middle classes represent two fundamental moments for the rethinking of a mobilization aimed at finding an alternative to the current social and institutional balances.

loris puccio conti

Journalism contributor and expert in contemporary history. Focuses, in particular, on the political ideologies of twentieth-century Italy.