The argument

The principal contribution of this book is to explain how CPI achieved such a high profile in Italian public debates despite no electoral support and its explicit extremist references. In the volume public debate is defined as the open debate about ideas relevant to politics (Bennett and Entman 2001: 3). One of the most important spaces in which the debate is carried out is the media (Roggeband and Vliegenthart, 2007: 525; Rooduijn 2014: 727).

We contend that the specific, hybrid, way, in which the group organizes internally and mobilizes externally, has been crucial for its fortunes. Hybrid features, in fact, represent a strategic asset for CPI to exploit the emotional bias of the mass media and its appetite for sensational, simplified, and controversial news stories (Bail 2015; Ellinas 2010; Vliegenthart and Walgrave 2012). Media coverage, in turn, gives a fringe organization like CPI the visibility necessary to consolidate its position within the far-right milieu, but also to routinize its extreme-right ideas in the public sphere, thus contributing to radicalizing mainstream debates.

As noted earlier, we refrain from making a simplistic distinction between the ‘success’ and ‘failure’ of CPI (Amenta et al. 2010; Bosi et al. 2015; Bosi and Uba 2009). While most party politics’ literature focuses only on electoral performances (see Eatwell 2016; Mudde 2007), analyses of social movements consider the various outcomes that protest activities may have on the political and cultural domains (Ciugni 2008). Separately, we argue, these two approaches are unable to account for how a group like CPI could acquire prominence in the public sphere despite its poor electoral scores and fringe extremist ideas. In this study, therefore, we combine party politics and social movement perspectives to look at the high profile of CPI in terms of both the electoral and non-electoral outcomes of hybridization.

To do so, we examine the internal workings and external mobilization of CasaPound Italia. Notably, we look at how CPI organizes, recruits personnel and activists to sustain mobilization and reach a wider public without downplaying extreme ideas and practices. This is in line with internal supply-side interpretations of far-right success, suggesting that the internal workings of a group critically shape its external mobilization and impact (Mudde 2007).5 Specifically, factors such as a group’s ideology, its leadership, the way in which it defines internal democracy, and the way in which it organizes locally, are deemed crucial in determining the nature and intensity of its street mobilization, and the extent of its success in the polls (Carter 2005; Heinisch and Mazzoleni 2016; Taggart 1995). This does not imply that agency is considered more important than, or disconnected from, context. Rather, it implies recognizing that a group’s organizational choices and mobilization strategies also depend on political and discursive opportunities at the contextual level (Kriesi 1989; Me Adam et al. 1996; Mudde 2007: 256-76; Tarrow 1996).

Our central claim is that the high profile of CPI stems, at least to a certain extent, from the specific way in which the group organizes, mobilizes, and communicates - which we analyse in terms of the notion of hybridization. We defined hybridization as the strategy by which a group combines: a) ideas and symbols inspired by different political cultures, and b) the organizational features and forms of mobilization of political parties and social movements. More specifically, this study considers five crucial aspects of CasaPound’s politics: the group’s ideology, its internal structure, activism, mobilization, and communication.

A first, crucial dimension of hybridization concerns the ideology of extreme- right groups. As we shall show, CasaPound adopts from historical Fascism a set of normative ideas about the nature of man and the organization of society (Sainsbury 1980: 8), and then articulates these selectively to address themes borrowed from other political cultures or emerging from topical events. In this respect, CPI differs from electorally successful radical right parties, who have

(at least openly) detached themselves from inter-war ideologies (Mudde 2007: 32—60) and endorsed more liberal (yet always restrictive) positions on the cultural issues that they ‘own’ (Petrocik 1996), notably immigration and integration (Halikiopoulou et al. 2013). On the contrary, CPI has not moved away from traditional ideologies. Rather, it uses elements from historical Fascism and post-war right-wing extremism to interpret contemporary events and advance new demands that might resonate with, and radicalize, the political mainstream (Bail 2015). Notably, ethnopluralism allows the group to attain a coherent worldview across different themes, while also avoiding appearing anachronistic (and explicitly racist or anti-democratic). Hybridization thus helps extreme-right actors like CPI to cope with the public stigmatization of historical Fascism and Nazism, and the decreasing importance of ideological conflict in contemporary politics (Mair 2008).

The internal structure refers to a group’s organizational configuration (Art 2011; Carter 2005; Heinisch and Mazzoleni 2016) — the machinery, procedures, and mechanisms driving its internal working. As we shall show, the hybrid internal structure of CPI combines the organizational aspects of institutionalized political parties (Scarrow et al. 2017), and those helping to sustain the collective action of social movements (McCarthy and Zald 1977; Olson 1965). Political parties are normally configured as hierarchically and territorially structured organizations resting on a set of intermediate bodies that regulate decision-making, and on a body of formal rules that determine selection of the leadership, access to membership, and political engagement (Panebianco 1988; Poguntke et al. 2016). Social movements, instead, are organized horizontally and feature predominantly informal rules concerning recruitment, decision-making, and activism (Della Porta and Diani 2009). By looking at the internal structure of CPI, our study argues that these two organizational configurations can coexist and contribute to the high profile of the group. Hybridization enables CasaPound to uphold specific features of the party model alongside the seemingly looser structures and procedures of social movements (Pirro and Castelli Gattinara 2018), facilitating the drawing of financial resources and personnel from different venues.

Activism refers to the participation of individuals within a political group, or the enduring investment in a collective struggle that goes beyond the simple act of casting a vote (Polletta and Jasper 2001). In this context, the hybrid strategy of CPI implies various ways to promote activism. This includes conventional and unconventional modes of participation and hybrid imageries aimed at crafting a collective identity and influencing politics. The formal political participation that is normally associated with political parties includes lobbying, electing representatives, and contacting the news media (see Norris et al. 2005). Alternative and informal participation, instead, includes social movements promoting protest, online networking, and subcultural or counter-cultural activities (Fantasia 1988). Our study shows that the high profile achieved by CasaPound partly rests on a blurring of the distinction between party and social movement models of participation, and the styles of extreme-right, left-progressive and pop culture. Combining conventional and unconventional modes of activism, symbols and imageries, in fact, hybridization contributed to supporting the engagement of individuals in CPI and to consolidating the group’s identity.

Another crucial dimension of hybridization is external mobilization, consisting of a repertoire used by collective actors to advance their demands in public arenas (Tilly 1978). Notably, the CasaPound strategy of mobilization implies engagement in both the electoral and the grassroots arena. On the one hand, CPI is similar to political parties that normally participate in the democratic process by fielding their candidates, and is therefore geared towards elections (Kitschelt 2006: 279); on the other hand, CPI is similar to social movements, as it uses protest and disruption to pursue its collective goals (Della Porta and Diani 2009: 13—16). In this respect, CasaPound’s external mobilization shows that the repertoires of collective action adopted from social movements, and of electoral participation usually associated with political parties, may be complementary rather than alternatives to one another. This unconventional mix of agitprop actions, campaigning, and contentious demonstrations contributes to ensure a high-profile media coverage in both the protest and electoral arenas.

Finally, by political communication we refer to the way in which a group interacts with its members and the outside world, including public officials and the media, as well as other individuals. CPI’s political communication is intended to convey the idea of continuity with the most iconic features of historical Fascism, alongside a renewal of extreme-right symbolism and imagery. Due to the growing importance of the media in electoral competition, political parties have professionalized their strategies, adopting ‘media codes’ of personalization and dramatization (Altheide and Snow 1979; Ellinas 2010; Mazzoleni and Schulz 1999). Studies on the visibility of social movements, moreover, suggested that media coverage is linked to the organization of highly spectacular events (Castelli Gattinara and Froio 2018; Wouters 2013), the diffusion of information through old and new media (Bouron 2017; Froio and Ganesh 2019), and the creation of alternative platforms (Mattoni 2016). In this respect, CasaPound has developed a semi-professional communication apparatus to seize the attention of the mainstream media, but has also broken away from the usual communication style of political parties, through agitprop operations, sensationalistic actions, and sustained activism in the digital environment.

Building on these five crucial aspects of CPI’s politics, this volume focuses on hybridization as a strategy deployed by extreme-right actors to avoid marginalization and achieve a high profile in the public sphere. We argue that CPI sets out hybrid strategies to trigger the interest of external observers and the media, with the goal of reaching beyond the restricted political space that is generally available to fringe political groups. In other words, CPI seeks to diffuse its messages among mainstream audiences through the strategic combination of left-wing issues, extreme-right ideas, and pop culture. At the same time, it seeks to make extremist politics mainstream by juxtaposing the communication activities and repertoires of institutional parties and protest movements.

 
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