From local to national, from single-issue movement to political party
In its early years, CPI was active almost exclusively in one city: Rome. It configured as a typical case of a single-issue actor, mobilizing almost exclusively on one issue: housing rights for Italians. Over time, however, the group expanded its political platform and reached out to other cities.
The territorial expansion depended on available resources and the opportunity to set up a local chapter.5 Although irregular, this expansion has been sizable: as shown in Map 2.1, in 2013 CPI could count on 60 local sections in Italy, whereas in 2018 it had 154 local sections.
Looking at the development over time, it can be seen that CPI has extended its territorial reach, progressively becoming a national movement. If in 2013 the group existed mosdy in the region of Rome and in a few northern cities, in 2018 CPI chapters are found in most regions in the centre of Italy, but also in the south and now more extensively in the north. This also led the group to extend its name, from simply ‘CasaPound’ to ‘CasaPound Italia’. At the same time, the two maps show that CPI remains an urban phenomenon, since its chapters are mostly located in regional capitals and major cities, and less so in smaller towns and rural areas.
Through its local branches, CasaPound recruits militants and sponsors activities linked to its main national campaigns (see Chapters 4 and 5). In this respect, the territorial organization of CPI does not differ much from that of political parties. Yet the local branches also invest in two types of initiatives that are less political in nature. On the one hand, they promote socialization among militants and sympathizers through leisure activities, pubs, music events and sport clubs, in line with
MAP 2.1 Local sections of CasaPound Italia: geographical distribution in 2013 and 2018.
the general idea of CPI as a community. On the other, they promote direct forms of engagement on local problems perceived as urgent, a repertoire which previous literature named Direct Social Actions (DSA) (Bosi and Zamponi 2015). Notably, local CasaPound activists intervene to offer a material contribution to public problems of security, emergency and environmental deterioration, among others (Froio and Castelli Gattinara 2017). While DSA are not the bulk of CPI’s mobilization (see Chapter 6), they serve to permeate contexts that are unfavourable to the group, or where the opportunities to open a local branch are minimal due to the presence of political opponents. This was the case of Naples, where CPI faced much opposition and thus opted to mobilize on social issues, by distributing food to (Italian) families, by offering counselling to (Italian) workers and unemployed people, and by trying to open a clinic for (Italian) people who struggled to access public health services.
We have set up a centre that, from the beginning and still today, has offered services, from tax advice to employment assistance to counselling. It might seem silly, since today is all about numbers and profit (...) but we just want to give people the possibility to come and talk to us, to unburden themselves of their problems. There are people that no one wants to hear. Often they just come to us and talk about their personal problems: their son who takes drugs or who cannot find a job.6
In this respect, the progressive national expansion of CPI also had consequences on the group’s political off er, and on its preferred modes of action. As noted earlier, in its early years CPI preferred the protest arena to the institutional one, and stood out for its predisposition towards non-conventional repertoires, showcase protests, occupations and other political and cultural activities. The imagery and symbols of its protests contributed to building a radical image of CPI and its network of political and cultural movements, granting recognizability within and without the extreme-right milieu (Rao 2014). Over time, however, CPI increasingly combined grassroots engagement with activities in the electoral arena. While the results have been generally very poor (see Chapter 6), the electoral shift forced the group to expand its programmatic agenda to issues that had remained until then on the margins of its political agenda. In 2011 and 2012, a number of candidates from CPI ran as independents within centre-right coalitions, as Gianluca Iannone had done with MS-FT in 2006. From 2013 onwards, however, CPI presented its own electoral list and refused to ally or build coalitions with other candidates at the local and national levels. A few local councillors were elected throughout Italy. The increased attention on the election arena, however, was accompanied by sustained mobilization in the protest arena, including a number of episodes of violence (see Chapter 6).
A trace of this hybrid institutionalization can be noted in the way in which the group officially presents itself to the outside world. The ‘FAQ’ section of CPI’s website, in fact, includes questions that ‘define’ the group, its organization and main goals. Comparing the text that appeared in 2012 (when we started this research) with the one currently displayed (January 2019 at the time of writing), a number of substantial changes are evident. The first change concerns the question ‘What does CPI do?’. Both in 2012 and in 2018, the answer emphasizes the extra-political, social and cultural nature of CPI politics. Yet, in 2012, the answer concluded in a way that made CPI almost incompatible with electoral politics. Tellingly, the last sentence of the 2012 quote is omitted in the 2018 version, signalling a change in strategy and the progressive transition towards electoral politics (CPI 2012b).
What does CPI do? Politics. That is, the good of the polis. That is, to give hope, dignity, strength and will to an exhausted and bloodless people. CPI acts in society with a single will expressed by a thousand voices: exhibitions, conferences, study groups, artistic experiments, concerts, pubs, youth communities, gyms, volunteering, trade unionism, media provocations. And also elections. If and when necessary. If and when there is room for manoeuvre beyond the usual mob of businessmen. This means: very rarely.
A second change concerns CPI as an organization. In the early years, the group presented itself as alternative to the model of extra-parliamentary movements but also to that of traditional political parties. Two subsequent questions asked if CPI was ‘an extra-parliamentary movement’ and whether it was ‘a political party’. In both cases, the answer was ‘Absolutely not’. Again, this changed over time and the paragraph here, from 2012, no longer appears on the website in 2018:
Is CPI a party? Absolutely not. CPI is transversal, free, and creative. CPI has militants and programmes; it offers ideas, not career opportunities. Therefore, it cannot be a party. This does not mean that it does not engage in politics. To think that only a party can do so is to have an idealised view of contemporary political dynamics, stuck in the nineteenth century, and unaware of contemporary dynamics.
Finally, a third change concerns the way in which CPI relates to extraparliamentary politics. As can be noted in the following excerpts, in 2018, as in 2012, CPI refuses to be considered as an extra-parliamentary movement, but it does so based on quite different reasons.
Is CPI an extra-parliamentary movement? Absolutely not. CPI has militants, supporters, and friends who are active in institutional politics, mainstream culture, and in associations defining the social life of the nation. It is not a group of subversive outcasts, crazy terrorists, hotheads looking to pull a stunt.
FIGURE 2.3 Posters of CasaPound’s territorial festivals.
On the left, the poster of the 2016 festival in Tuscany entitled Direction: Revolution. On the right, a 2018 event in Iscmia (Molise) entitled Direction: Parliament.
Is CPI cm extra-parliamentary movement? Absolutely not. CPI is a political community that regularly presents itself in electioas and aspires to enter Parliament to undermine the power systems that paralyze this nation. It is not a group of subversive outcasts, crazy terrorists, hotheads looking to pull a stunt.
A final, exemplary, sign of CPI’s progressive transition to the election arena is provided by the choice of the slogans for its campaigns. Traditionally, CPI employs a sensationalizing strategy, using a shocking visual and linguistic repertoire to get the attention of the media (see Chapter 7). In 2013, the slogan accompanying CPI’s national festival was Direzione Rivoluzione (Direction: Revolution), underlying the group’s ambition to radically transform Italy and Italian politics. Tellingly, by 2018 the slogan was amended to Direzione Portamento (Direction: Parliament).