History and context of CasaPound Italia

To understand hybridization in the politics of CasaPound Italia, one must first contextualize the group within the specific Italian scenario. Most scholars, in fact, consider Italy a particularly suitable case for right-wing extremism due to its broadly open political opportunities (Mammone et al. 2013), which facilitate far-right mobilization by modern populist radical-right actors such as the Lega Nord (Northern League, LN), as well as extra-parliamentary and grassroots collective actors such as CasaPound (Caldiron 2009; Marchi 1997). In tracing the history of CPI’s emergence, this chapter relies on secondary literature to address the historical and institutional factors defining right-wing mobilization in post-World War II Italy. In addition, we use official data from CPI’s website and interviews with national leaders to reconstruct the origins of the group. Building on the notion of political opportunity structures (Kriesi 1989; McAdam et al. 1996; Tarrow 1996), we argue that the symbolic legacy of extreme-right politics in post-war Italy informs the internal-supply side and mobilization strategies of CPI. First, the chapter introduces the reader to Italy’s far-right milieu in the years post World War II (2.1); then, it discusses recent developments in Italian politics and the turning points that contributed to revitalizing far-right street politics (2.2). Section 2.3 discusses specifically the origins of CPI in the early 2000s and its ambivalent engagement in protest and electoral activities. Section 2.4 examines how the group progressively expanded its political platform and reached national relevance.

Far-right politics in Italy: from 1945 to Fiuggi

In this section, we address the legacy of historical Fascism as part of the opportunity structure for far-right mobilization in contemporary Italy. We shall devote particular attention to the outspoken mistrust, among the ideologues of

Fascism, towards party politics (Gentile 2013; Payne 1996). A crucial current of Italian Fascism, in fact, has been considered as ‘Fascism as a movement’, because it featured anti-democratic, revolutionary and secular tendencies, as opposed to the more conservative, institutional features of ‘Fascism-as-a-regime’ (De Felice 1969). If the conservative current of Fascism-as-a-regime emphasized order and tradition, Fascism-as-a-movement pursued revolutionary ideals based on dynamism, youth activism and the rejection of modernity and democracy (Ignazi 2003). While this tension has characterized historical Fascism since its inception, here we look at its manifestation in post-war activism as a crucial factor explaining the ideological and cultural trajectories of contemporary extreme-right actors in Italy.

Cultural and historical factors are key to understanding the openness of political and discursive opportunity structures for collective action (Giugni 2009; Koopnrans and Statham 1999). Unlike Nazi Germany, the Italian Fascist dictatorship was ended by a civil war, which left a profound emotional divide between the pro- and anti-Fascism camps. After the execution of Benito Mussolini, Italy did not experience a genuine process of transition or ‘de-fascistization’ (Manunone et al. 2013). Consequently, the Italian collective imagination considered inter-war Fascism as a sort of accident of history rather than as the result of Italy’s pre-existing political culture, and the resulting massive adhesion to the regime in the 1930s (Gentile 2013). From 1952, with the approval of the so-called Legge Scelba (Scelba Act, from the name of its main promoter), the Italian legal and constitutional system prohibits the diffusion of Fascist and Nazi ideologies and the reconstitution of the National Fascist Party (Parlilo Nazionale Fascists, PNF). This certainly limited the activity and propaganda of post-war extreme-right groups, since the presence of such forces was reputed to be anti-democratic in itself (Chiarini 1995).

Nevertheless, the cultural and symbolic legacy of Mussolini’s regime, its ideology, policies and organization had a profound influence on the ideas and mobilization potential of extreme-right parties and movements in the post-war years (Cento Bull 2007). Fascist groups were soon able to reorganize themselves, with the foundation of the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI) in the very first years of the Italian republic. While initially envisaged as a militia-style organization, the MSI rapidly turned towards the structure and organization of a legal political party organized along the mass- party model, contesting elections based on a mix of calls to national pacification and nostalgia for the past regime (Ignazi 1998). From its origins, however, the party was torn between two main factions. A ‘movement’ or ‘radical’ faction claimed continuity with the revolutionary and anti-liberal style of the republican Fascism of the mid- 1940s and opposed the very principles of the newly established democratic system. The ‘moderate’ faction, instead, preferred the clerical, corporatist and conservative tendencies of the fascist regime: it was more inclined to access the party system, supported Italy’s membership of

NATO and was open to compromise with the ruling parties against the Communist ‘threat’.

Although the moderate strategy proved electorally rewarding in the 1950s and early 1960s, the radical faction gained momentum in subsequent years as the MSI found itself progressively isolated in the Italian political system. The electoral strategy of the MSI in fact was met by a rising dissatisfaction among the subcultural and youth components of Italian neo-fascism, frustrated by the post-war ghettoization of the extreme right (Tarchi 1995, 1997). While new groups emerged within and outside the MSI, calling for hard-line clashes with political opponents in the streets, a part of the movement was clearly differentiated by its efforts to renovate extreme-right ideology based on the French Nouvelle Droite’s critique of the liberal-capitalist system, individualism and consumerism (Bar-On 2012).

Of considerable impact on younger generations was the organization of a series of summer camps, which aimed at taking the MSI out of the gloomy neo- fascist ghetto, to assume an active role in Italian society. The so-called ‘Hobbit Camps’ (organized in 1977, 1978, 1980) represented perhaps the last attempt to achieve authentic ideological and cultural renewal in the Italian extreme right (Tarchi 1997, 2010). By introducing concerts, cultural performances and public debates in direct emulation of the model introduced by left-wing parties and movements, the organizers of the festivals intended to re-formulate the cultural roots of post-war Fascism in Italy. The MSI leadership however did not appreciate the efforts of the youth section to renovate, and soon reinforced the hierarchical principle, marking the end of this short-lived season of cultural renewal and experimentation with innovative organization models. While these attempts did not succeed in bringing the MSI out of its isolation, due to the party’s enduring nostalgia for the regime and its reluctance to take a distance from street violence and terrorism, the memory of the summer camps is still very much alive in contemporary extreme-right groups in Italy. This renewed worldview was an encouragement to join the MSI for students and younger people who wished to put a halt to the bloody confrontations between fascists and antifascists (Ignazi 2003).

Meanwhile, extra-parliamentary groups had become increasingly active alongside the parliamentary extreme right (Picco 2018). Since the early post-war years, its components had been involved in a multitude of episodes of street violence, attempts at coups d’etat and various acts of terror of serious magnitude. Not only, therefore, has neo-fascist violence been prolonged compared to most other European countries, but the acts of aggression have also been more numerous and diverse than elsewhere, including a high number of terrorist attacks during the so-called anni di piombo (years of lead) between 1969 and 1982 (Ferraresi 1995; Weinberg 1995). Over these years, activists of Ordine Nuovo (New Order, ON) and Avanguardia Nazionale (National Vanguard, AvNa) were involved in activities ranging from street corner brawls to widespread urban rioting (such as the protests in Reggio Calabria in 1970), whilst neo-fascist militants were also responsible for bomb massacres intended to sow mass panic and trigger military intervention in Italian politics (Ferraresi 1995). Violence further escalated as the ideologues of Terza Posizionc (Third Position, TP)1 and the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei, NAR) developed a romanticized idea of activists as ‘legionnaires’, fighting for a hopeless cause.

The ‘armed spontaneity’ of the late 1970s (Ferraresi 1995: 189) paved the way for the formation of small autonomous groups operating independently and understanding street violence as a first step in a revolutionary progression that would comprise terrorism and culminate in guerrilla warfare. The failure of this strategy to integrate the extreme right into a collective movement, and the countless victims it produced culminating in the massacre at Bologna’s train station (85 deaths on 2 August 1980), ultimately led to the demise of Italy’s armed neo-Fascism in the 1980s. The dismantlement of most extra-parliamentary right- wing organizations, the fall of the Berlin wall and the changing global context progressively made confrontation with communism and street violence lose momentum. By the early 1990s, the MSI had gradually turned into a focus for protest by legal means, unambiguously denouncing violence and clearly distancing itself from extreme-right fringes.

As MSI candidates achieved resounding success in local elections, the party greatly improved its coalition potential (Ignazi 1998). Taking advantage of these opportunities, the 1995 congress in Fiuggi marked the transition of the MSI into a modern European radical right party, Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance, AN) that could now present itself as a legitimate ally for the emerging mainstream right coalitions that would rule Italy in the following decades (Lazaridis et al. 2016). AN’s last leader, Gianfranco Fini, officially detached the party from the legacy of historical Fascism in October 2003, when, during a visit to Israel, he declared that ‘Fascism was the absolute evil’ {La Repubblica 2003). A few years later in 2009, AN disappeared as the party merged into Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition The People of Freedom (Popolo della libertd, PDL).

 
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