External mobilization

In recent years, CasaPound started running in elections while also engaging in contentious activities. Does this mean that CPI dismissed its grassroots dimension to turn into a fully-fledged political party? Or did it rather continue to engage simultaneously in contentious protest and party politics? To understand CPI’s external mobilization strategy and its impact on the group’s public profile, this chapter relies on the concept of a repertoire of action and addresses its conventional and unconventional tactics (Tilly 1978). Building on data from Political Claims Analysis (PCA), the chapter first provides an overview of CPI’s external mobilization strategies (6.1). The quantitative content analysis of electoral manifestos and face-to- face interviews with high-ranking officials are then used to discuss this infonnation specifically for CPI’s activities in the protest (6.2) and electoral arenas (6.3). The final sections are devoted to examining the main campaigns promoted by the group on specific themes (6.4), before drawing general conclusions on the group’s hybrid mobilization strategy. Overall, the chapter shows that CPI is still tom between the need for legitimization required by engagement in electoral politics, and the propensity towards social movements’ ‘logic of damage’ (Della Porta and Diani 2006: 170). CPI’s hybrid approach to mobilization implies that while protest activism is important, this does not exclude electoral participation, so that contentious actions coexist with conventional forms of political engagement. We discuss how this hybrid external mobilization strategy contributed to building the high profile that CPI enjoys in the media, despite its minimal electoral support.

From the streets to the ballots?

The external mobilization of CPI displays aspects similar to Kitschelt’s (2006) definition of ‘movement parties’ in that it combines activism within and outside the institutional arena, including formal activities (such as electoral campaigning and lobbying), with protest activities (squatting and vigilante operations). In Chapter 2, we argued that CPI, having emerged from a splinter of the youth section of the extreme-right party Fiamma Tricolore (Di Nunzio and Toscano 2011), displayed an initial predilection towards social movement forms of organization and mobilization. Disillusioned by the logic of party leadership accountability and decision-making, CPI established itself as a non-profit organization and promoted a self-styled, confrontational understanding of right-wing politics, reproducing some aspects of the repertoire of left-wing movements. Specifically, it started out as a single-issue movement focusing on ‘social housing’ and promoting the squatting of buildings as a protest against the housing crisis in Rome (see Chapter 3). In its early years, the group became noted for its non-conventional repertoires of contention, in particular for showcase protests, occupations of state-owned buildings for housing purposes, and squatting for political and cultural activities. The imagery and symbols accompanying these actions provided recognizability to CPI within and outside the extreme-right milieu (Chapter 5), progressively configuring a network of political and cultural movements, rooted within Italy’s neo-fascist youth subculture (Rao 2014).

From 2011 onwards, however, CPI gradually diversified its strategy for external mobilization. At first, its candidates ran as independents within centre-right coalitions (2011—2012); since 2013, CPI presented its own electoral list and integrated its agenda with anti-immigration proposals. At the same time, the group also expanded its programmatic agenda on socio-economic affairs, endorsing issues that remained at the margins of its political agenda in earlier years. The evolution of CPI’s strategy is evident in its changing electoral slogans over the past years: from ‘Direction — Revolution’ (in 2013) to ‘Direction — Parliament’ (in 2018). Even while participating in electoral campaigns, however, CPI has maintained a tendency to combine conventional party activities (such as handing out electoral leaflets, collecting signatures and promoting fundraising events for candidates) with contentious politics, including the storming of rival candidates’ offices (CPI 2013a), clashes with anti-racist and anti-fascist groups (CPI 2013b), and direct actions and interventions (CPI 2018a). The elected officials of CPI often use their position to provide further visibility to the extra-parliamentary actions of the group (CPI 2016).

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