Welfare and the economy: state-led (domestic) laissez-faire

Economic and social concerns, notably housing rights, welfare and state interventionism, play a crucial role in CPI’s ideological platform.

The importance of housing in the ideology of CPI is established by the very name that the group chose — CasaPound - and by its symbol, the arrowed turtle. In fact, ‘Casa’ is the Italian word for ‘house’ and Pound is a reference to the poet Ezra Pound (1885—1972). Ezra Pound was born in the United States but moved to Italy in 1924. He supported Benito Mussolini and wrote several publications (notably the Cantos) on housing rights and ownership, understood as basic human needs (Redman 1991; Gallesi 2005). Housing is so important for CPI that it is embedded in the very logo of the group: a turtle — an animal that always has a roof over its head.

The turtle was chosen as the logo of CPI because it is an animal constantly carrying its home, the animal that turned a residence into a shelter. In this sense, the home refers not only to an idea of society, but also to a daily practice closely connected to the concrete, existential needs of citizens."

CasaPound considers home ownership a sacred right on which to establish the family unit; it is an inviolable right central to a person’s dignity. It follows - in line with the preaching of Ezra Pound — that rent is seen as usury, as it represents the exploitation of something that should not be monetized (Cantos). The explicit reference to the public housing projects of the 1920s and 1930s is used to support CPI’s main policy campaign: the Social Mortgage (Mutuo Sociale). Rather than proposing public housing, however, CPI calls for a subsidized home-buying scheme to encourage individual private property' (see Chapter 6).

As regards state interventionism, CPI’s position is ambiguous: it calls simultaneously for a strong state to protect the national economy from external challenges, and for laissez-faire policies at the domestic level. This peculiar vision is inspired by historical Fascism but also by the tradition of the ‘social light’ (Destra Sociale), the post-war wing of the extreme right that stressed the ‘social doctrine’ of Italian Fascism (Caldiron 2010). The main reference is thus the social legislation of the Fascist regime, namely the Labour Charter of 192722 and the Verona Manifesto (1943).23 Within these complex pieces of legislation, however, CPI picks only a carefully selected sample of elements considered to be politically useful, such as the introduction of mutual aid societies, state policies on land and infrastructure, and the idea that entitlement to welfare assistance should be linked to citizenship rather than to taxation.

The intervention of a strong state is called for by CasaPound as a necessary' means to protect Italian workers and products against unfair and foreign competition. In the aftermath of the Great Recession in Italy, CPI’s activists engaged in the creation of a workers’ union (Blocco Lavoratori Unitario - United Workers’ Bloc, BLU) and promoted measures to reduce conflict on labour issues, taking inspiration from the Verona Manifesto. The 1943 Manifesto was the act that established the Italian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI) and is a crucial cultural reference for Italy’s Social Right in the post-war years. CPI’s internal literature emphasizes its most innovative aspects (in particular the collectivization of businesses for the good of the nation), while ignoring the fact that none of the Manifesto’s proposals were actually implemented, due to the collapse of the RSI (see De Bernardi 2001).

At the same time, CPI articulates a relatively positive view of private initiative and the free market, at least within the nation state. This sets CPI apart from other (and more established) far-right parties which progressively moved from laissez-faire positions (favouring lower taxes, smaller governments and deregulation of the economy) to interventionist and protectionist ones (Otjes et al. 2018; Ivaldi 2015). In CPI’s worldview, the economy is just a means at the service of the nation: accordingly, it calls for the nationalization of businesses that operate for the ‘vital interests of the nation’24 such as the Bank of Italy, telecommunications, postal and transportation services. In this respect, the economy would be governed by the State in order to defend the economic interests of Italian natives, whether Italian citizens in need of welfare provision or Italian businesses demanding tax-cuts to contribute to the growth of the nation.

The same double-edged logic applies to redistribution and, more generally, to CPI’s view of capitalism. Concerning the first, CPI denounces social inequality, but it opposes redistribution through taxation (Scianca 2011a). More precisely, it calls for state protection of specific social groups of Italians (families, women, persons with a disability and the elderly) and for tax-cuts or for a non-redistributive tax system with a constant marginal rate or ‘flat’ tax (II Primato Nazionale 2014). At a more general level, CPI does not oppose market capitalism per se: it is critical of a deregulated international trade system, but it supports the idea that national economies are run by private initiative in a free domestic market.25

We are not inventing anything new. Fascism protected private property, the entrepreneurial spirit, etc. ... We are anti-capitalist only as far as capitalism means as much market as possible and as little state as possible. We are opposed to capitalism if it means that every aspect of daily life is commodified, and that everything can be transformed into a commodity. We are anticapitalistic only when labour itself is seen as a commodity.26

The ambiguous position of CPI concerning the role of the state in the economy makes it difficult to locate the group on the Left-Right political spectrum, at least on a purely economic basis. This corresponds with the information emerging from our interviews, since CPI militants and leaders reported that they identify with a variety of political cultures: some reluctantly accepted the ‘right- wing’ label,27 others told us that they identified as ‘socialist’,28 and yet one interviewee went as far as to affirm that, in the 1970s, people would have called him a ‘Nazi Maoist’.29 In fact, ‘right-wing’ is a qualification that CPI’s leaders and activists generally reject. Their self-understanding is as ‘fascists’, and thus beyond the ‘right and left categories’,30 an interpretation heavily inspired by the ‘metapolitical’ approaches to political action of the New Right. This implies that, as a political movement, CasaPound prioritizes engagement in the cultural sphere over strictly elections-oriented activism. Inspired by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, meta-politics thus refers to an ideological investment in nonpolitical activities addressing schools, universities, the cultural world and the press as a prerequisite to all forms of engagement in the institutional parliamentary arena. For CPI, meta-politics implies creating the cultural conditions for the return of the Fascist state model that, in turn, will allow social and class divisions to be overcome through the creation of an organic state.31

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