MoVimento 5 Stelle: From “Social Ferment” to Institutionalization: The Four Stages of the Movement

By Bledar Prifti (July 25th, 2012)

This study provides a thorough analysis of the MoVimento 5 Stelle (M5S—Five Star Movement) and its transition from being an unassuming traditional social movement to becoming the second biggest and claiming to become the biggest political force in Italy. The argument of this study is based on Herbert Blumer’s theory of “the four stages of social movements: the “social ferment”, “popular excitement”, “formalization”, and “institutionalization”–demise. The study found that there exists sufficient information which strongly indicates that M5S has gone through the first two stages and is currently in its third development stage. The way M5S reacts to “environmental” changes and organizational structures it establishes in the third stage will determine its type of demise in the fourth stage, demise through success—becoming a political party—or demise through co-optation or failure—becoming a story of the past. Data collected for the purpose of this study rely mostly on primary sources, including interviews with politicians and professors and information retrieved from M5S official Web site and other Italian Internet Web sites and print media.

The Study in Perspective

This study provides an analysis of a social movement that is currently under way in Italy, the MoVimento 5 Stelle (M5S—Five Star Movement). What is this movement about, what are its major characteristics, what is its impact on Italian politics, and what does the future hold for it? The main objective of this study is to explain the nature of this new movement and the development process this movement has been going through, transforming it from a disorganized organization to a new traditional organization, institutionalized political force. For Herbert Blumer, in the process of development, a social movement “acquires organization and form, a body of customs and traditions, established leadership, an enduring division of labor, social rules and social values — in short, a culture, a social organization, and a new scheme of life.”[1] This study will also argue that changes in the socio-political environment and the success of this movement are at the same time the major factors that reveal organizational drawbacks of the movement, consequently, demanding and bringing organizational changes in order for the movement to adapt to the new environment and survive, becoming an institutionalized political party.

The study follows Blumer’s the theory of the four stages of social movements, as presented by De la Porta and Diani.[2] These four stages include (1) “the social ferment”—emergence as a new disorganized and propagandistic force; (2) “popular excitement”—popular force with clear causes and objectives; (3) “formalization”—formal organization to achieve the objectives; and (4) “institutionalization”—becoming “organic part of society” and crystallization into a professional structured.[3]  These stages are also knows as emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization and, decline. Miller argues that the fourth stage—institutionalization—can also be a stage that represents the “demise” of the movement.[4] According to him, the demise can occur due to repression, co-optation, organizational failure, or success.[5] Some other scholars have argued that establishment within mainstream is another way of declining; however, this is covered under Blumer’s fourth stage, in which a movement becomes “organic part of society”. Seeing that M5S is new and its development is ongoing, which means it has not reached the demise stage yet, this part will be subject for discussion in the conclusion section of the study. It is also important to note that success is a crucial component of the theory because without it, any movement won’t be able to grow or survive; they also may not be able to go through all the stages of development. While success is just one form of the demise stage, it impacts the movement from its very beginning. Without it, a movement will demise without being born.

The importance of this study rests on two main reasons. First, M5S is a current and new social movement that has not been explored by scholars in the academic community. The movement has been going through an unprecedented development that has caught the academic community off-guard. Second, based on several polls, M5S has been transformed suddenly from a conventional socio-political movement to the third and then the second biggest political force in Italy. Based on a poll conducted by Sondaggio Politico—Elettorale in March 2011, M5S had just 1.9% of the popular votes.[6]  In another poll conducted on May 18, 2012, came out as the third biggest political force with 13.7% of the popular votes.[7] Moreover, on May 25th, 2012, soon after the local elections, another poll found M5S with 17% of the popular votes, becoming the second biggest political force after the Democratic Party with 24%.[8]  Furthermore, a study conducted on June 11th, 2012 by Istituto Demoscopio EMG found that M5S had increased its popular votes to 19.1%.[9] These positive developments for M5S make it appropriate, based on the theory of four stages of social movements, to use success as the driving force that promote changes within M5S, and which will also contribute to its demise.

Besides the secondary sources, this study will rely heavily on primary sources obtained by the author of the study. Primary sources will include personal interviews and meetings with members and leaders of M5S and well-known social science professors and political commentators, and direct access to local and national media and poll centers. It’s important to note that all the materials and conversations presented in this study are translated in English by the author. In addition, because all members of M5S are prohibited to attend or participate in political debates (Talk Show) in any Italian TV channel and because they use Internet as their primary means of communication with the electorate, this study will rely mostly on data obtained online in various Web sites.[10] In fact, according to a study conducted by the Italian national newspaper Corriere Della Sera, the popular support for M5S is much higher in those cities that have a significant spread of internet technology—the “digital Italy”.[11] Apparently, it is logical to claim that supporters of M5S may include in majority people who have access to internet. For Beppe Grillo, the leader of the movement, M5S is an “internet movement and democracy for Italy”.  “The spirit of the Five Star Movement,” he continues, “can be summarized in two words: transparency and participation, both possible thanks to the diffusion of the internet.”[12]

Social Movements—Organizational Changes in Perspective

Because of the differences in cultural, political, and economic characteristics, social movements in different countries yield to a variety of organizational characteristics. This variation in organizational characteristics makes it impossible to explain organizational changes by applying the same model for all the cases.[13] Even the definition of social movements is subject to different interpretations. For the purpose of this study, a social movement is defined as a “social process” in which actors are engaged in “conflictual collective actions” with well-defined opponents, linked together by “dense informal networks”, and share a distinct identity.[14] Conflictual collective action is defined as an “oppositional relationship” for political and/or cultural purposes between forces that seek to obtain the control over political, economic, or cultural power with the final aim to promote social changes.[15] In addition, the presence of informal networks is related to the absence of a formal or traditional type of organization that would create a centralized system within a social movement. Such networks are crucial to a social movement process because they provide both individuals and leaders with more autonomy, independence, and cooperation that would help increase productivity and achieve the common goals.[16] Moreover, collective identity is an important element of a social movement because it provides members of a movement with a sense of fraternity guided by “common purpose and shared commitment to a cause”.[17]

While organizations go from birth to demise, paths they follow from one point to the other are subject to different theoretical approaches. At the same time, paths they select impact the success and longevity of the organizations, social movements included. To begin, Max Weber takes a classical organizational approach and focuses on bureaucratization as the best way to make possible “the full working capacity” of members of an organization. [18] This classical approach relies on a merit-based system of appointment and promotion and a clearly-defined division of labor among fellow members to achieve organization’s objectives.[19] The classical approach, however, has some major drawbacks. First, it focuses on organizational objectives, ignoring the human component and its needs, which may also lead to less productivity. Second, it is too rigid and does not allow the organization to adapt to changes in a timely manner. Third, it tends to ignore external factors and the surrounding environment.

In addition, modern structural organization theory provides a different approach to organizational change. According to this theory, organizations are rational institutions whose primary purpose is to accomplish established objectives; rational organizational behavior is achieved best through systems of defined rules and formal authority.”[20] This approach borrows from the classical approach the importance of specialization and division of labor and adds to it the importance of structure in solving organizational problems. It relies on a vertical positioning of the authority, a clear hierarchic system. Like the classical theory, the structural approach tends to focus mostly on objectives, thus ignoring the importance of the human factor in solving organizational problems. Unlike the classical approach, the structural approach is not completely based on a closed-system approach because it recognized some form of external factors, such as technology. Another significant disadvantage of this theory is that it defines people as rational being and their actions as result of rational thinking. This is not true especially in the case of social movements when people may also come together due to compassion, sense of identity, moral issues, and simple sense of brotherhood or adventure.

Furthermore, power and politics organization theory defines organizations as “complex systems of individuals and coalitions, each having its own interests, beliefs, values, preferences, perspectives, and perceptions”.[21] Objectives of the organization are mostly product of political maneuvering and negotiations between different actors and coalitions within the organization, and in some cases a product of individuals that hold a high position of authority. Based on this approach, power relations are crucial to organizations because “specialization and the division of labor result in the creation of many interdependent organization units with varying degrees of importance to the well-being of the organization”.[22] Robert Michels argues that all organizations are oligarchic in nature and political parties are the means to secure power in the political arena.[23] However, a political party, “having become an end in itself, endowed with aims and interests of its own, it undergoes detachment, from the teleological point of view, from the class which it represents”.[24] Like the previous theoretical approaches, the power and politics approach has its own disadvantages. The main disadvantage is that it alerts the organization about the presence of the competition but does not provide guidelines on how to manage competition and limit its negative impacts on the organization. In addition, the concept of power is vague, hard to define and distinguish, and seeing that it is aimed at any direction, one may claim it is aimed at no direction at all.

Lastly, theories of organizations and environments provide alternative approaches to explaining organizational phenomena. The open system theory, unlike previous approaches, focuses on the environment, of which the organization is part, and analyzes its impact on the organization’s performance.[25] In this case, organizations are viewed as systems, defined as “organized collection of parts united by prescribed interactions and designed for the accomplishment of specific goals or general purposes”.[26] They are not static entities and are in a permanent state of change, adapting themselves to environmental changes.[27] Glenn R. Carroll and Michael T. Hannan provide a natural-selection approach to organizational changes.

Organizations are not static, but are rather in constantly shifting states of dynamic equilibrium. They are adaptive systems that are integral parts of their environments. Organizations must adjust to changes in their environment if they are to survive. Environments differentially select organizations for survival on the basis of the fit between organization forms and environmental characteristics…The stronger the pressures are from within or outside an organization, the less flexibly adaptive it can be and the higher likelihood that environmental selection will prevail.”[28]

However, even this approach has its own disadvantages. While this approach provides significant explanation to organizational issues, it ignores the importance of cultural differences and rationality of the closed systems. Nevertheless, it does not mean that it contradicts those approaches.

Faced with this diversity of approaches, one would ask, “what is the best approach?”. Indeed, the best approach would be the one that incorporates other approaches and takes into account the element of change. The environmental approach allows for a mixation of all organizational theories because it explicitly and implicitly demands for such a mixation in order for an organization to survive in a changing environment. It defines organization as a system of “independent activities embedded in wider environment”.[29] Analyzed from this perspective, organizations are seen as part of a complex environment, and its existence and operations depend on a plethora of environmental elements. Any change in the environment will change the way the organization operate. Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn argue that in order for us to understand the way organizations operate, we need to look at the input-output system in which energies (demands) return from outputs (delivery of goods and services) dictate how the system will operate later.[30] In addition, the environmental approach focus not only on profit, but it also focuses on social and cultural interests embedded in the environment; it existence and operations are based on long-term interests, and not on short-term interests. Thus, the environmental approach provides a better explanation of the theory of the four stages of social movements, or of the life of a social movement from its birth to its demise, because it takes into account changes in the environment it is part of. As the movement proceeds from one stage to another, its internal organizational structure and nature will change to adapt to the new environment. MoVimento 5 Stelle is better explained by the theory of the four stages because, unlike most other movements, it has a well-defined political agenda and objectives and has established some form of organizational structure.

MoVimento 5 Stelle in Perspective

The Birth and Growth of M5S— “Social Ferment” and “Popular Excitement”

M5S was previously known as the Movement of National Liberation. “Five Stars” stand for major policy approaches for improving and promoting (1) public water, (2) development and transformation of the economy, (3) public transportation, (4) connection for effective exchange of information, and (5) environment protection. The movement became known as the movement of Giuseppe Piero Grillo (or Beppe Grillo), a well-known Italian comedian, actor, and blogger. Because of his outspoken criticism and accusations against the government of the Italian Socialist Party, in 1987, he was de facto and de jure banned from appearing in any public TV channel. However, he was exonerated once the Tangentopoli scandal erupted and engulfed the Italian power elite in early 90s. In September of 2005, he became known for his public denunciation of a banking scandal and the demand for the resignation of the governor of Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio.[31] In the same year, Time Magazine included Beppe Grillo in the list of 2005 European Heroes.[32] In addition, on November 22nd, 2005, he received public attention when he managed to publish an article in International Herald Tribune, in which he argued that the Italian parliament has a considerable numbers convicted politicians and demanded the purification of the parliament from these kinds of parliamentarians.[33] Meanwhile, the popularity of his political activity had transcended Italy and reached the European Parliament, which invited him to speak in front of the parliament; and of course, Grillo spoke mostly about the Italian politics and its problems.

M5S officially emerged as a social movement in October of 2009 when Grillo help a public meeting in Milan, in which he revealed seven main points of the M5S program: economy, transportation, energy, health, information, education, and state and citizens (reorganization of the state apparatus and citizen’s involvement in it).[34] At the beginning, Grillo’s intention was to promote a cultural revolution, not a political movement as it turned out to become later.[35] In this endeavor, he was strongly supported by Gianroberto Casaleggio. Casaleggio is considered by many the most influential person who has helped Grillo not only to build the online infrastructure but also to write the M5S program. In a letter sent to Corriere Della Sera, Casaleggio claimed to be cofounder of M5S, that Grillo is “like e brother to him”, and he “never stood behind Beppe Grillo but by his side”.[36] Grillo admits this relationship with Casaleggio but claims that he talks and Casaleggio writes—“io parlo, lui scrive’.[37] Pietro Orsatti provides a detailed analysis of the role of Casaleggion in the creation of Beppe Grillo’s blog (, which is literally the place where M5S came into existence. Orsatti argues that behind the incredible success of Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle is a well-planned strategy implemented by Casaleggio and his company, the Casaleggio Assiociates, the actual editor of Beppe Grillo’s Web site.[38] Casaleggion studied issues of web-marketing and e-business and revealed a new type of propagandist seller that he called the influencer.[39] He argued that the influencer is partly conscious and partly unconscious about his/her actions, and companies cannot sell anything without the use of the influencer.[40]

Apparently, Grillo and Casaleggio thought that this commercial approach could be used successfully even for political purposes to increase the popular support for M5S. They believed that influencers had the potential to directly or indirectly manage the growing online communities for political purposes. Grillo’s blog had already become a spokesman for thousands of people who were disappointed by the current political class and institutions and were looking for another political alternative. Internet became a powerful and instrumental tool on hands of Grillo. As mentioned previously, the popular support for M5S increased significantly in those cities that have a significant spread of internet technology—the “digital Italy”.[41] According to a recent study, the majority of people who visit Beppe Grillo’s Web site are men (67% of men compare to 53% of men’s total national population on-line), mature, and living in Northern Italy (54.5% compare to 49.1% at the national level).[42]

By 2009, Grillo realized that popular discontent and resentment toward the political institutions and the political class had reached a tipping point, which would welcome a grassroots movement that he had in mind. To his charismatic leadership, Grillo added a new ideology that perfectly fitted to the well-spread popular sentiment—the anti-party ideology (anti-partito), an ideology that indirectly connected to and blamed current political parties for all the plights of the Italian people. The election of a technical government in November 2011 provided more political ammunition for M5S to attack the political parties as the source of the political-economic crisis and incompetent to lead the country during times of crisis. Paolo Macry, a professor of Contemporary History at University of Naples, Federico II, argues that M5S is a political phenomenon that responded to the failure of the political class to lead the country to overcome the crisis that this political class has caused during the last twenty years.[43]

Considering the surrounding environment and its dynamic status were crucial for Grillo’s future political moves. A grassroots movement would make it possible for Grillo to build up popular support and solidarity and run the movement without completely building formal structures or needing considerable resources.[44] However, as De la Porta and Dani argue, such movements that rely heavily on voluntary participation are limited in their capabilities to continue over time.[45] The most important thing for Grillo to do was to channel the popular discontent toward the political and economic situation in a social movement with well-defined objectives and to have that movement up and running.

Taking into account the popular sentiment, Grillo moved quickly to put the fight for direct democracy in the forefront of the movement. Direct democracy approach can also be seen as equivalent to or as a supporting element of the anti-party ideology. It also allows for an organic form of organization and the devolution of power, which most traditional political party lack. This approach appeals to those who feel excluded or ignored from the current political class because to every member who joins M5S is given the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, to vote and get elected. With M5S, these electors feel appreciated and think of it as a political opportunity to promote their economic and political interests. Grillo thought of direct democracy approach as the antidote for problems that had been caused by the political system/parties, appealing, simultaneously, to the publicly-held opinion about the lack of democratic representation.

Popular perception of the political class as being corrupted and detached from people provides sufficient argument to relate it to other social and economic plights of the Italian society, such as disparity and poverty. This is the reason, he argues, why in the last administrative election, M5S took votes away votes from the Lega Nord and Italia dei Valori parties, both of which traditionally rely on moral issues to attract voters.[46] This strategy takes advantage of a political culture known as “Bassolinismo”, which relates to Antonio Bassolino, the leader of “the intransigents” during the anti-mafia/corruption movement in early 1990s.[47]

Moreover, members of M5S argue that the goal of the movement is to use the direct democracy to change the current political institutions and class and pursue long-term social, economic and political goals. Taking advantage of the prevalent anti-political party sentiment among the Italians, they propagate Grillo’s argument that politics can be conducted even outside and without traditional forms of organization, such as the political parties or bureaucratic systems. He is against the classical organizational structure of the political parties. Instead, he espouses an organic movement with “horizontal structure” and decentralized authority. In a recent interview, when asked about M5S’ internal structure, Grillo responded: “I do not want to hear about structure. We are a horizontal movement, and if you move in vertical, you become a party.”[48] Apparently, for Grillo “structure” can only be vertical, which is not the case.

Soon, the strategy to turn the popular sentiment and discontent into an immense supporting force for the movement proved successful and reached its pinnacle during and after the 2012 administrative elections. From 1.9% of the popular votes in March 2011[49], within fourteen months, M5S managed to become the second biggest political force in Italy.[50] In 2012 administrative elections, M5S managed to win cities of Parma, Sarego, Mira, and Camacchio, launching a new era of politics. The triumph in Parma can be considered a game-changing event because it provided M5S with considerable media publicity that directly attracted the attention of the people; however, at the same time, it made M5S a target of political attacks from everywhere and with every means, including adverse changes in the electoral law.[51]

As of June 11th, a study conducted by Instituto Demoscopio EMG found that M5S had increased its popular votes to 19.1%, becoming the second biggest political party in Italy.[52] On June 8th, 20012, another poll conducted by Sondaggio SWG had found M5S with 20.2% of the popular votes, and predicted that with this percentage M5S would win 104 parliamentarian seats in the 2013 general elections.[53] On June 14th, another poll of SWG found M5S with 21% of the votes, just 3% behind the first biggest party, Democratic Party (PD).[54] Seeing that around 43% of the voters are still undecided or do not want to vote unless a credible political project is offered to them,[55] M5S has a good chance to attract these voters. If political situation follows the same trend, it will not be a surprise anymore if M5S becomes the biggest political force in Italy.

From “Popular Excitement” to Organizational Structure—Bureaucratization  

While M5S has reached the “popular excitement” stage of the movement (wining administrative elections in four cities and becoming the second biggest political force with 21% of the popular votes), the actual success has not been large enough to make M5S completely enter the third stage of the movement—the institutionalization stage. Unless something dramatic happens, there is a strong indication that the “big success” is imminent as the results from many polls predict that M5S will win around 104 seats in the Italian parliament in the 2013 general elections.[56] The “direct democracy” with its current organic or “horizontal structure” (as Grillo and his supporters like to call it) has served M5S to adapt to the changing environment and appeal to the disappointed and excluded electorate.  Nevertheless, it is also becoming movement’s biggest threat.

Paradoxically, the more successful and enlarged M5S becomes the more it threatens itself. The absence a well-defined organizational structure and the reliance on direct democracy have made M5S vulnerable to potential chaos and destruction in the near future. John Quincy Adams used to say, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.” This was a clear reference to what Adams called “a government of laws, and not of men” and the prevailing sentiment among the Founding Fathers, who despised democracy as a form of the government. Instead, they preferred a Republic, a ruling of laws. James Madison, known as the Father of the Constitution, argued that “… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention…and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Alexander Hamilton also supports this view when he argued that “It has been observed that a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this.”[57]

While the Founding Fathers rightly decided to build a political system governed by laws, M5S has decided, so far, to build a system governed mostly by people. This approach is putting M5S through an uncertain path that may lead to its suicide in the near future. Members of M5S have already started to feel the “troubles” and the fear of success. M5S cannot be conceptualized detached from the external factors and immune from internal and external changes. With the growing success comes also the need for change in order to sustain success, otherwise, M5S may be subject to Carroll and Hannan called “environmental selection”.[58] The environmental changes, and the uncertainty and fear they produce, inadvertently lead M5S to change and the creation of some classical form of organizational structure to make sure a mixture of the organic and mechanistic system of organization.

There are many indicators which show that the direct democracy approach that was once used to coalesce people around M5S is now becoming its real threat, and unless M5S applies a different form of organizational structure, the current success may be reversed and the movement may succumb to failure. For example, after the astounding success of winning the city of Parma in 2012 administrative election, the newly elected Major of M5S, Federico Pizzarotti, faced severe problems in the process of electing his cabinet. Because he had to rely on direct democracy (each M5S Parma member has to vote/decide who should be elected) in order to decide who to elect as the member of his cabinet, after more than a month from his election, he has not been able to elect all the cabinet members. In a message posted in Facebook, former Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, stated: “All new mayors have already decided the cabinet, except the grillino, Pizzarotti in Parma.”[59] The tardiness in electing his cabinet has opened opportunities for political adversaries like Maroni to label Pizzarotti and other M5S elected officials (called Grillini) as “incompetent boy scouts”.[60]

In addition, in an article published in Corriere Della Sera, Giovanni Sartori, a famous Italian political scientist, argues that M5S is incapable of governing the country at the national level because it does not have the structure, organization, and people to do so.[61] While Sartori recognizes certain similarities between Silvio Berlusconi and Grillo in using the power of television and internet for political purposes, he argues that Berlusconi, at least, built a political party but “Grillo doesn’t build anything”.[62] For Sartori, Berlusconi came into power and governed Italy because he built a political party, and “you become a political party when you discuss about structures”.[63] If one had to use a counterfactual argument, in case of winning 104 or more seats in Italian parliament in the next general election (as predicted by recent polls) or in case M5S becomes the biggest political force, then people would expect that it would take M5S months to form a government or elect the prime minister by using their “direct democracy” approach.  Nobody believes that the Italian people, especially under the current economic crisis, are going to wait for M5S to have their internal elections in their style. To make the matter worse, people would fear that the same problem will appear in any governmental level and decision-making process.

Moreover, people would rightly question the skills and capabilities of M5S’ elected officials. Does the direct democracy construct a selection process based on merits or militantism and patronage? In the case of Pizzarotti’s Parma, even though it took days for M5S to appoint Roberto Bruni as member of the cabinet, Bruni resigned within twenty-four hours because it was discovered that in 2006 he was the head of a company that went bankrupt.[64] People also may fear that “direct democracy” approach in electing candidates would unfortunately give rise to incompetency in all levels of the government. Pizzarotti increased this fear when in his first public meeting of the City Council, he addressed people’s concerns by saying, “be patient, we are learning…”[65] Seeing that expectations for the 2013 general elections are very high, the desire or lust for power will also have a significant impact on the process of selecting candidates who would run for the parliament At the least, the selection process would cause the “direct democracy” to fail while at the most, it would push M5S into chaos or faction.

The absence of the traditional organizational structure also impacts the ability of M5S to cooperate with other internal or external social and political factors. For example, when invited by members of U.S. Diplomatic Mission in Italy to meet in Rome for a general conversation, members of M5S Rome could not decide on whether to go or not to go and on what they would discuss if they decided to meet.[66] Because members of M5S Rome had to follow their direct democracy approach, it took them many days to decide on the issue, to meet or not to meet. In addition, their inclination to publicize the meeting, which was part of their transparency regulation imbedded in the principles of direct democracy, apparently raised serious concerns among the members of U.S. Diplomatic Mission, which feared that the meeting could be subject to political misinterpretation and exploitation. Even though M5S Roma voted to have the meeting with U.S. diplomats[67], the latter withdrew the invitation.[68]

However, even though M5S members claim that they do not follow a conventional approach to power structure, organization, and decision making process, fortunately, M5S has already a “horizontal” structure in place, both formal and informal. The presence of this structure is widely ignored by M5S and others who are interested in the movement. The reality is that M5S has its Charter called NonStatuto, which has a total of seven articles that define and regulate M5S’ political function and activity. Article 1 of NonStatuto defines M5S as a “non Association” (non Associazone), and its Headquarter is Beppe Grillo’s blog,[69] All forms of contacts with M5S go through the address In addition, Article 3 of M5S’ NonStatuto states that the name of MoVimento 5 Stelle is paired with a mark registered in the name of Beppe Grillo, who is the sole owner and who has the exclusive rights to use it.[70] Furthermore, Article 7 clearly states that M5S has the sole authority, at local, regional, or national level, to collect candidatures to run for public office and is the sole “vehicle” for selecting candidates who would run under the M5S trademark.[71] And this is what most people and members of M5S have not realized yet. If Grillo is the sole legal owner of M5S’ trademark and has the supreme right to use or allow the use of it, then nobody can run under M5S name without obtaining first the approval of Grillo; it would simply be illegal.

The case of Valentino Tavolazzi, a former collaborator of Grillo, is a strong indicator of the existing organizational structure. This case indicates the real power of Grillo in deciding who to accept in or throw out of M5S and who is allowed to use M5S insignia. Not only did Grillo forbid Tavollazzi from de jure joining M5S, but together with Casaleggio, he also threatened Pizzarotti not to appoint Tavolazzi as General Director of the city of Parma.[72] Pizzarotti withdrew the appointment of Tavolazzi, allegedly for the lack of funds to pay him.[73] In an interview, when asked about Tavolazzi’s case, Grillo responded that M5S is not as Tavolazzi think it should be and “we simply have not given him the right to use our symbol”.[74] A similar case is that of Guido Fegatilli in the Celano city, Province of Aquila, in which Beppe Grillo forbade Fegatilli from using M5S symbol because he had not received the certification from Grillo to use the symbol.[75] In another case, Grillo prohibited Paola Miani in Ravena, Emilia Romagna Region, from using M5S’ symbol because she was engaged in “different activities” from those of the regional M5S.[76] Grillo’s approach in this case contradicts the principles of direct democracy that are so vehemently proclaimed by M5S members: nobody represents M5S and everybody participates in decision-making process.

At the same time, the Tavolazzi’s case provides sufficient indication about the presence of power politics within M5S. As a popular figure, Tavolazzi openly challenged the leadership of Grillo. Meanwhile, Grillo reacted immediately by eliminating the potential risk to his leadership and the cohesiveness of the movement he represented. Grillo feared that members like Tavolazzi could cause M5S to split in factions.[77] In addition, while Tavolazzi already belongs to the past, the new leader of Parma, Pizzarotti, may be considered a future internal challenger that Grillo needs to keep under control. Tavolazzi’s case and its result (the withdrawal of his appointment by Pizzarotti) indicate that a challenger may come out at any time even though Grillo enjoys considerable support within M5S (Pizzarotti knew that Grillo was against the appointment of Tavolazzi, but he moved forward to challenge Grillo).

Following Weber’s types of authority, the authority does not have to be only legal-rational (bureaucratic) authority; it can also be traditional or even charismatic authority.[78] The latter are less stable and short-lived compare to the former, and the former is a common type of authority in modern societies.[79] Even though M5S members pretend that they do not have a legal-rational authority, it is evident M5S has its forms of hierarchy expressed also in informal ways, which may include the traditional (i.e. age and seniority) or charismatic types of authority. Such an organizational approach make it possible to apply what Mary Parker Follett called “the authority of situation”, an authority that is used based on circumstances and situation.[80] This is also the case when a person or a small group of people within local or regional branches enjoy the upper hand in decision-making process due to their long-lasting contribution in M5S or their charisma and intellectual formation. For example, Beppe Grillo enjoys the reputation of the leader because he is the founder of the movement and a very courageous and charismatic person, which also give him more leverage on decision-making process within M5S. This mixed form of authority makes it easier for Grillo to also squelch any challenger within M5S, as was the case of Pizzarotti and Tavolazzi. Other members of M5S have seniority status or are charismatic and intelligent by nature, such as the case of Tiziano De Simone and Roberto Fico in Naples, a city whose MeetUp Web site has the biggest number of Beppe Grillo’s Friends (Amici di Beppe Grillo)—about 4,428 friends.[81]

These forms of authority increase and become obvious in cases when certain members come out as victors in a political battle or show traits of a victor, successful, and courageous person. Grillo is one example. If there were no success, there would be no M5S and Grillo to be talked about today. The bigger the success of M5S the higher will be the leadership status of Grillo. This also pertains to other local and regional leaders that may emerge due to success. For example, the astounding election of Federico Pizzarotti as Major of Parma in 2012 administrative elections and the courageous candidacy of Roberto Fico in Naples give these members of M5S a new status in local, regional, and/or national level. Many successful people have come and will come in the greater number to the forefront of M5S with the passing of time and, especially once, the success and responsibility increase. The Italian electorate, like any other electorate, does not simply vote only for the party (in our case M5S) but also for the candidate himself/herself. This is a conventional knowledge widely accepted by the academic community that studies voters’ behavior. It always takes time for values and beliefs to become institutions and build their structures, as institutionalists would argue.[82] The success followed by an increase in M5S membership and political responsibilities demand the creation of structure, either formal or informal. M5S is still in the process of maturity, and its members are in the process of showing who they are and what they can do to increase movement’ success. With the passing of time, M5S will totally succumb to politics, to what Easton called “the authoritative allocation of values”.[83] If by any chance M5S will not adopt itself to environmental changes, soon it will succumb to “environmental selection”—to demise through failure instead of demise through success.


This study argued that changes in the socio-political environment and the success of MoVimento 5 Stelle are at the same time the major factors that reveal organizational drawbacks of the movement, consequently, demanding and bringing organizational changes in order for the movement to adapt to the new environment. This approach followed Blumer’s theory of the four stages of social movements, which includes (1) “the social ferment”—emergence as a new disorganized and propagandistic force; (2) “popular excitement”—popular force with clear causes and objectives; (3) “formalization”—formal organization to achieve the objectives; and (4) “institutionalization”—becoming “organic part of society” and crystallization into a professional structured.[84] This study found sufficient information to argue that M5S has already passed the first two stages of the movement, the social ferment and the popular excitement stages, and is currently in the third stage—institutionalization stage. Changes in the political environment have forced and will force M5S to change in order to adapt to or survive in the new environment. The success of M5S in 2012 administrative elections and the growing popular support that followed that success are strong indicators that this movement has already passed the popular excitement stage and has entered the institutionalization stage. Based on many polls, M5S has become the second biggest political force in Italy (with a strong possibility of becoming the first biggest political force) and is predicted to win more than hundred seats in the Italian parliament after the 2013 general elections.[85]

Because of M5S’ sudden success, this study is limited in its ability to fully analyze the institutionalization (bureaucratization) stage. Nevertheless, there exist strong indications to believe that M5S has already entered the bureaucratization stage, in addition to its “horizontal” form of organization. The case of Valentino Tavolazzi indicates that M5S’ Non-Statute is a fundamental institution that dictates, to a significant extent, how the movement operates where the real power resides. In addition, due to the recent successes of M5S, several members have emerged as potential leaders in their localities, such as the case of Federico Pizzarotti in Parma and Roberto Fico in Naples. While their authority is informal, they have higher leverage in decision-making process compared to other common members of M5S. The number of such leaders is predicted to increase dramatically in the near future because of the predicted success and the need to defend and sustain that success. The need for expertise, skills, intelligence, courage, and commitment will make it possible for a well-defined bureaucratic system to come into existence as Max Weber argued in his work on bureaucracy.[86]

The way M5S will react during the bureaucratization stage will determine its demise stage. If the growing success is not followed by the formulation of a well-defined bureaucratic system, the M5S is more likely to succumb to failure as a form of its demise.[87] The lack of a bureaucratic system will make M5S incapable of organizing itself, unable to solve internal disputes, and incompetent to address people’s needs. The level and quality of bureaucratization will also dictate other form of demise. For example, if bureaucracy (or lack of it) within M5S would not allow for even basic forms of organization, the movement simply would yield to organizational failure. In addition, if its bureaucracy would fail to resolve internal disputes, it will make M5S surrender to co-optation from other political forces. Moreover, if the bureaucracy limits competencies of M5S to address people’s needs, the movement will then lose the popular support and, consequently, will fail to achieve its political objectives.

This study also has its limitations as well. First, the theory of the four stages of social movements cannot be generalized and does not apply to all types of social movements. Because social movements are reactions to a particular country’s cultural, economic, and political issues, and seeing that these issues differ from country to country, it is almost impossible to come out with a theory that would explain all social movements. For example, M5S cannot be compared to the Arab Spring movements in some Muslim countries because they differ with regard to cultural settings, objectives, capabilities, and means used to reach those objectives. To a certain extent, Arab Spring may fall within the frames of a revolutionary movement. Zapatista Movement in Mexico is a better example of a revolutionary movement. Also M5S cannot be compared to the Tea Party Movement in U.S. because the latter pursue a well-defined political ideology in a very different social, political, and legal settings (confrontation is based on ideology, not due to the presence of political corruption or lack of representation), does not have a well-defined leadership and organizational framework, and its activity is based on spontaneity. Tea Party Movement represents and supports an alternative and well defined (political) ideological approach to solving the economic problems, which are not embedded in political corruption or lack of representative as is the case with M5S.

On the other hand, M5S shares many similarities with the Movement for Self-Determination (Levizja Vetvendosje—LV) of Albin Kurti in Kosovo. LV has gone through the developmental stages. It started as a spontaneous movement with clearly-defined political objectives, increased its popular support and solidified its organizational structure, and turned to become a political party represented in the Kosovo’s parliament. Thus, not all social movements may follow the stages of development discussed in this study. In addition, the four stages of social movements are not always clearly defined or mutually exclusive. Some movements, such as Tea Party Movement or LGBT movements, may go back and forth or may totally ignore these stages; sometimes they may overlap. However, one thing is certain: each movement has its birth and demise, and cultural, political, and economic settings determine its journey from birth to demise.

[1] Herbert  Blumer, “Collective Behavior,” in New Outline of the Principles of Sociology, ed. Alfred McClung Lee (New York: Barnes & Noble,  1951),  168.

[2] Donatella De la Porta and Mario Diani, Social Movements: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ldt, 2009), 150.

[3] Ibid., 150.

[4] Frederick D. Miller, “The end of SDS and the emergence of weatherman: Demise through success,” in Waves of protest: Social movements since the Sixties, ed. Victoria Johnson and Jo Freeman (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999), 303-324.

[5] Ibid., 303-324.

[6] Sondaggio Politico—Electorale, March 24, 2012. Accessed May 27, 2012,

[7] Sondaggio SWG, “Volano i grillini, sprofonda il PDL e la fiducia in Monti scende al 35%,” Published May 18, 2012. Retrieved May 27, 2012,

[8] Quotidiano.Net, “Sondaggio Swg: Grillo al 17%, Secondo partito dopo il Pd,” Published May 25, 2012. Accessed May 27, 2012,

[9] Clandestinoweb, “Sondaggio EMG per TG LA7, Movimento 5 Stelle (19.1%) Sempre piu vicino al PD (24.7%),” Published June 12, 2012. Accessed June 13, 2012,

[10] Beppe Grillo, “I talk show,” Beppe Grillo Web site, May 8, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2012,

[11] Edoardo Segantini, “L’Italia informatica (e social): ecco l’autostrada su cui corre Grillo: Banda larga e Internet oltre il 50% al Centro-Nord dove I grillini hanno conquistato le percentuali piu alter e 4 Comuni,” Corriere Della Sera, 20 June 2012, 17.

[12] Beppe Grillo, “Internet Movement for Democracy,” Financial Times, June 11, 2012. Accessed June 11, 2012,

[13] De la Porta and Diani, “Social Movements”, 150.

[14] Ibid., 20.

[15] Ibid., 21.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Max Weber,  “Bureaucracy,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 77.

[19] Adam Smith, “Of the Division of Labor,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 41-44.

[20] Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang, Classics of Organizational Theory (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 197.

[21] Ibid., 271.

[22] Ibid., 272.

[23] Robert Michels, “Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 295.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Shafritz et al, “Classics of Organizational Theory”, 401.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 401-402.

[28] Glenn R. Carroll and Michael T. Hannan, “Demography of Corporations and Industries,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 404.

[29] Shafritz et al., “Classics of Organizational Theory”, 401.

[30] Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn, “Organizations and the System Concept,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 410-415.

[31] Beppe Grillo, “Fazio Vattene: Apello dal Blog,” Beppe Grillo Web site, September 1, 2005. Accessed June 7, 2012,

[32] Time Magazine, “European Heroes,” October 10, 2005, Archive.

[33] Beppe Grillo, “Clean Up Parliament: Appeal from the Blog,” Beppe Grillo Web site, Accessed June 7, 2012,

[34], “Nasce il Movimento (a 5 stelle) di Liberazione Nazionale di Beppe Grillo,” Published October 5, 2009. Accessed May 28, 2012,

[35] Francesco Battistini, “Grillo e la politica estera, dal Mossad all’Iran: ‘Mia moglie è iraniana, lì la donna è al centro della famiglia. Bin Laden non era tradotto bene, me lo ha detto mio suocero,” Corriere Della Sera, 25 June 2012, 11.

[36] Gianroberto Casaleggio, “Casaleggio: ‘Ho srcito io le regole del Movimento 5 Stelle: L’ombra digitale del comico Genovese: ‘Mai stato dietro a beppe Grillo, ma al suo fianco,” Corriere Della Sera Web site, May 30, 2012. Accessed May 30, 2012,

[37] Battistini, “Grillo e la politica estera”, 11.

[38] Pietro Orsatti, “Grillo e il suo spin doctor: la Casaleggio Associati,” MicroMega, September 30, 2010. Accessed June 5, 2012 from

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Segantini, “L’Italia informatica”, 17.

[42] Marta Serafini, “I lettori del blog di Beppe Grillo? <<Sono maschi, adulti e residenti al Nord,>> Corriere Della Sera Web site, July 11, 2012, Accessed July 11, 2012

[43] Paolo Macry, conversation with author, 12, July 2012.

[44] An argument supported by De la Porta and Diani, Social Movements, 149.

[45] Ibid., 149.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Marco Travaglio, “Beppe Grillo: ‘Non fregherano I 5 stelle con Saviano, Passera o Montezemolo,” il Fatto Quotidiano, June 13, 2012. Accessed June 14, 2012,

[49] Sondaggio Politico—Electorale.

[50] Clandestinoweb, “Sondaggio EMG per TG LA7”.

[51] Beppe Grillo, “Plotone di esecuzione,” Beppe Grillo Web site, July 22, 2012. Accessed July 23, 2012,

[52] Ibid.

[53] Franco Bechis, “Pdl azzerato e Pd ostaggio: Grillo conquista 104 seggie,” Libero, 9 June 2012, 2-3.

[54] Corriere Della Sera, “Il Movimento 5 Stelle è quasi il primo partito: Beppe Grillo al 21% dietro il PD (24%). Monti in calo,” June 15, 2012. Accessed June 15, 2012,

[55] ANSA.IT, “Balzo Avanti Grillo Pd cala, cresce Pdl,” ANSA Web site, June 30, 2012. Accessed July 3, 2012,

[56] Bechis, “Pdl azzerato e Pd ostaggio”.

[57] Alexander Hamilton, Speech on 21 June 1788 urging ratification of the Constitution in New York.

[58] Carroll and Hannan, “Demography of Corporations”, 404.

[59] Federico Mello, “Pizzarotti dove sei?,” il Fatto Quotidiano, June 4, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2012,

[60] Ibid.

[61] Giovanni Sartori, “Se Le Ilusioni Volano In Rete,” Corriere Della Sera, 15 June 2012, 1.

[62] Ibid.

[63] as cited in Sartori.

[64] Francesco Alberti, “La giunta slow di Pizzarotti perde un pezzo. La Rete al sindaco grillino: ‘Leggi i curriculum?’” Corriere Della Sera, 22 June 22, 2012, 11.

[65] Francesco Alberti, “Pizzarotti debutta: abbiate pazienza, impareremo,” Corriere Della Sera, 15 June 2012, 15.

[66] Roberta Lombardi, June 4, 2012, “Argomento: Invito all’Ambasciata Americana,” comment on MoVimento 5 Stelle Roma Blog, Accessed June 4, 2012,

[67] Massimo Lazzari, June 6, 2012, “Risultati sondaggioincontro consolato USA”, comment on MoVimento 5 Stelle Roma Blog, Accessed June 7, 2012,

[68] Roberta Lombardi, June 8, 2012, “Risultati sondaggioincontro consolato USA”, comment on MoVimento 5 Stelle Roma Blog, Accessed June 8, 2012,

[69] M5S Non Statuto (Constitution), Page 3, Accessed May 28, 2012,

[70] Ibid. 3.

[71] Ibid. 5.

[72] Valentino Tavolazzi, “Beppe su di me non dice la verita,” Projeto per FERRARA Web site, June 13, 2012. Accessed June 20, 2012,

[73] Angela Frenda, “Pizzarotti, annuncio su YouTube: ho un assessore. Dopo il caso Tavolazzi “Non ci sono soldi per il direttore generale. Se troviamo un’anima pia…” Corriere Della Sera Web site, June 5, 2012. Accessed June 5, 2012,

[74] Travaglio, “Beppe Grillo”

[75] Beppe Grillo, “Previzioni elettorali: Movimento Cinque Stelle Contro Tutti,” Beppe Grillo Web site, July 10, 2012, Accessed July 10, 2012,

[76] Beppe Grillo, “Ingroia al confine in Guatemala,: Beppe grillo Web site, July 25, 2012, Accessed July 26, 2012,

[77] Ibid.

[78] Max Weber, “The Three Types of Legitimate Rule,” Berkeley Publications in Society and Institutions, 4(1) (1958): 1-11, Translated by Hans Gerth.

[79] Ibid., 3.

[80] See Mary Parker Follett, “The Giving Orders,” in Classics of Organizational Theory, ed. Jay M. Shafritz, J Steven Ott, and Yong Suk Jang (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing, 2011), 156.

[81] M5S Official MeetUp Web Site, Accessed June 20, 2012,

[82] Shafritz et al, “Classics of Organizational Theory”, 403.

[83] David Easton, The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957).

[84] De la Porta and Diani, “Social movements”, 150.

[85] Bechis, “Pdl azzerato e Pd ostaggio”.

[86] Weber, “Bureaucracy”, 77.

[87] De la Porta and Diani, Social Movements: An Introduction, 150.

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