Leadership, decision-making and personnel selection
CPI presents a hierarchical structure with neither formal decision-making procedures, nor discernible internal democracy. In this section, we shall discuss three crucial factors in the internal structure of CPI: the leadership and its relationship with the base; the organization of the internal decision-making process; and the definition of organizational roles.
Leadership in CPI is embodied by the president, Gianluca Iannone, who is also the founder of CPI and a widely recognized figure in the subcultural milieu of the Italian extreme right. His involvement in the everyday politics of CPI has however decreased over time; most of the ordinary business is now delegated to the vice-president, Simone Di Stefano, who acts as spokesperson, and runs as candidate in national and major local elections. But Iannone remains the most widely recognized figure of CasaPound, and he takes the stage whenever there is any controversy about the group, such as in the aftermath of the 2011 shootings in Florence.8
All the activists we met and interviewed during fieldwork agreed that the leadership held a complete, unchallenged steering role over the organization and its activities. The interviewees described Iannone as a ‘natural’ charismatic leader, and accepted his leadership because of his direct connection with the base and the militants. While acting as the leader, Iannone is also perceived as part of the CPI community, thanks to his direct, personal engagement in CPI’s major political activities, social voluntary work and leisure activities — notably through the ZetaZeroAlfa concerts and music. The leader is thus described emphatically as ‘Soldier, brother and friend’ at the same time. Our open participant observation, however, provided a somewhat different image of the relationship, and proximity, between the leader and its base. Notably, during our visit at one of the prominent squats of the group — Area 19, a disused metro station which hosted CasaPound’s three-day festival in September 2012 - we were able to note that the leadership was very cautious about mingling with the rest of the militants. Rather, Iannone and the other high-ranking officials were reserved a specific place, physically separated from the crowd. The same was confirmed at CPI’s national demonstration, where Iannone and Di Stefano led the parade but did not join the ranks of the activists and sympathizers.
In addition to playing a symbolic role as a model and a point of reference for activists (Eatwell 2002), the coterie charisma of CasaPound’s leader is crucial for internal decision-making and for the selection of personnel. As noted earlier, all strategies and policy proposals are decided by the inner leadership in Rome, and are simply communicated to members, militants and local branches. The central body then sets up a number of cabinets in charge of coordinating activities across main policy areas, notably housing. While decentralized grassroots initiatives are possible, they have to be ratified by the offices in Rome. For instance, CPI’s decision to run for national elections was communicated during the 2012 national festival at a public debate and national officials did not attempt to justify the choice. When we asked one of the local leaders who was present at the debate whether he agreed with the decision, his answer was simple:
We do not take part in these decisions. I cannot take decisions like that! Gianluca [Iannone] decided and then he told us. He says that this is good for CPI, and I trust him. He knows what is good for CPI.
The definition of organizational roles and duties in CPI follows similarly strict and informal procedures. Again, all procedures take place under the explicit initiative and unique responsibility of the leader. National and local officials are thus co-opted within the leadership based on Iannone’s own judgement. Militants are promoted to officials or assigned specific roles based on ad hoc decisions and then justified according to their educational or professional competencies. As a result, officials often perform tasks that correspond to their professional or educational skills: the communication manager is a professional journalist, whereas the cultural manager graduated in philosophy.
Appointments and promotions do not depend much on the experience and seniority of militants, nor on collective decision-making procedures, but simply on the relationship between militants and the national leadership. Still, CPI activists consider that personnel selection in the group conforms to meritocratic standards, rather than to co-optation: unlike the processes in political parties, it is claimed, in CPI the length of militancy does not necessarily lead to a leadership role.
There’s clearly a substantial difference compared to parties, in the sense that there is not some big shot that can recruit members and use them to impose his will on a local congress.11
Consider that, once elected, our councilmen give everything or almost everything to CasaPound. They do not keep anything for themselves. There are no professional politicians like in the other parties.12
Our interviewees justified this choice based on ideology, referring to Julius Evola’s concept of ‘personal equations’, according to which each individual (and, thus, each militant) is defined by a pre-established set of intellectual and spiritual inclinations (Furlong 2011).
Everyone chooses his or her own way (...) according to his or her personal equation, as Evola used to say. Everyone has his or her own way of being an activist, his or her own competencies and skills.13
Still, while certain skills can be learned through militancy, others are characteristics that are innate to only a few. The most important quality of a militant is leadership, which cannot be learned.
CasaPound’s structure is both hierarchical and meritocratic. Essentially, we have no high ranks and no congresses. We do not even have colonels. Instead, those of us who commit the most, and better than the others, will be recognised as leaders, and followed by everyone.14
This ‘objective’ understanding of meritocracy is closely intertwined with CasaPound’s leadership principle according to which the national leader possesses all the qualities necessary to select the cadres, identify the needs of the organization and judge the abilities of each individual militant. As a result, CPI does not envisage the possibility of internal factions, either formally or informally. All national officials have had and still have personal exchanges with the national leader, and most of them were directly recruited by him. The leader is thus in charge of not only the strategic and practical running of CPI but is also responsible for the effectiveness of its decision-making and internal cohesion.