Dimensions of hybridization

To illustrate this argument, we observed empirically five dimensions of CPI’s politics. In particular, the chapters have suggested that CPI’s ideology, its internal structure, mobilization and communication strategies display features that are mediated from different political cultures, including, but not limited to, the tradition of the extreme right. In addition, the configuration of CPI as a political organization, its collective identity and its choice of repertoire of action and communication, display elements common to both political parties and to social movements.

On the one hand, CPI develops and diffuses its worldview by combining references to historical Fascism, post-war extremism, the progressive-left tradition and pop culture. On the other, the group invests both in the electoral and in the protest arenas, upholding the organizational features and mobilization activities of political parties and social movements. We referred to this unconventional combination of ideas, styles, configurations and tactics with the notion of hybridization. With this concept, we seek to explain the visibility that CPI came to acquire in the public debate, and the attention it currently enjoys in the protest and electoral arena despite open nostalgia for historical Fascism.

The book’s first argument is that ideology needs to be considered in more detail when thinking about how extreme-right fringe groups gain prominence in public debates. Our analysis offers a call to move beyond simplistic interpretations of extreme-right ideologies as being either firmly entrenched in historical and post-war Fascism, or completely disconnected from the past. As Chapter 3 illustrates, in fact, hybridization brings nuance to this distinction. Rather than dismissing all references to inter-war and post-war worldviews, CPI uses the concept of ethnopluralism to attain ideological coherence. Ethnopluralism offers a consistent framing of core themes — like social welfare and globalization - as well as issues considered of secondary importance - like gender and the environment. Hybridization thus allowed CPI to emphasize its ideological roots in the tradition of the extreme right, while avoiding stigmatization as being outdated or openly racist.

The second argument concerns reconsidering the distinction between the organizational and strategic models of political parties and social movements to understand the visibility of a fringe extreme-right group in public debates. We showed that the internal structure, decision-making and recruitment of CPI does not fully conform to either the model usually followed by electoral actors, or that of grassroots organizations. Rather, it combines formal and informal features, hierarchic procedures and spaces of socialization, merging the organizational practices of social movements with those of formal political parties. We argue that the coexistence of these two organizational models crucially contributed to the high profile achieved by the group. CPI’s hybrid configuration in fact allowed it to draw financial resources and personnel from different venues, and to offer both conventional and unconventional modes of political participation for militants and sympathizers.

Third, the volume suggests that the transition of fringe extreme-right groups into the mainstream has to do with factors pertaining to their collective identities. The analysis developed in Chapter 5 offered in-depth insights into the formation of solidarity bonds among CPI activists. We showed that CPI’s collective identity is promoted through a composite mix of images, styles and practices originating from different political cultures. These include extreme- right identifiers (Mussolini, music in the form of ‘identity rock’ and violent narratives and practices), but also left-wing icons (e.g. Che Guevara and Karl Marx) and a set of aesthetic codes concerning activist clothing and the group’s imagery. Our analysis shows that this hybrid stylistic repertoire is crucial to CPI’s public profile: it contributes to reducing stigmatization by outsiders; it facilitates the recognizability of the group by potential sympathizers; and it actively sustains the identification of individuals within the group.

Fourth, the book suggests that external mobilization should be addressed more carefully when explaining the visibility of extreme-right fringe groups. We show that the repertoire of action of CPI combines activism inside and outside the institutional arena, including electoral campaigning, grassroots actions and agitprop operations. In this respect, the group does not consider protest tactics a suboptimal option compared to office-seeking strategies, but complementary to party competition. In this respect, CPI seeks to maximize media coverage by transposing the logics of damage into the electoral arena, and those of party' competition into the grassroots extreme-right milieu.

Finally, the book contends that communication repertoires play a crucial role in driving the attention of quality media towards extreme-right fringe groups. The communication strategy of CPI combines the professionalized media- oriented tactics of both political parties and social movements and allows the group to get coverage for both protest and electoral activities. More specifically, CPI’s variegated media infrastructure has enabled the group to become recognizable not only among far-right sympathizers but also among the broader public. Moreover, its particular communication style builds on simplified messages and agitprop campaigns, meeting the mass media demand for sensationalistic and entertaining stories. This hybrid communication repertoire allowed CPI’s politics and fringe narratives to become part of mainstream public debates and media coverage.

The consequences of hybridization

Overall, these results suggest that hybridization allowed CPI to enter the mainstream by combining left-wing issues, extreme-right ideas and pop culture, and by juxtaposing the activities and communication repertoires of office-seeking parties and contentious movements. Despite CPI’s minimal electoral support, its unusual forms of doing politics triggered increasing interest from external observers, the quality media and the public. They enabled extremist politics to become routine in mainstream public debates and facilitated the diffusion of fringe messages beyond the audience usually addressed by marginal political groups. The consequences of hybridization, thus, must be differentiated in terms of electoral and non-electoral impact. In this respect, the volume suggested distinguishing between CPI’s electoral success, and the broader impact on the political and cultural domains resulting from its ability to achieve visibility in the public sphere (Giugni 2008).

Our findings suggest that CPI’s hybridization strategy produced Janus-faced results. On the one hand, CPI was successful in cleaning up its public image, increasing the resources it could gather from different venues, and consolidating its credibility through a careful mix of election and protest campaigning. These resources facilitated organizational maintenance, the continuity of its mobilization and thus the diffusion of some of its themes into mainstream public debates, at least in the short term. On the other hand, over the medium and long term, CPI failed to achieve electoral breakthrough, the alliances it built with far-right parties proved short-lived, and its support in the polls and among the public remained minimal. So far, its electoral trajectory has been a remarkable failure if compared with the group’s self-proclaimed ambitions, and despite the impressive amount of attention that it claimed during the latest election campaigns.

In this respect, hybrid ways of doing politics allow fringe groups recognizabil- ity in the short term: they imply the construction of new, unconventional profiles for extreme-right actors, which are often very attractive for the mass media, and thus may at first grant their promoters special visibility within the crowded market of nativist politics. At the same time, hybridization also implies that actors give up parts of their political and cultural legacy, preserving only the most iconic, provocative, and thus recognizable, symbols. This choice may ultimately isolate these groups both from the extreme-right milieu (that stigmatizes them as too moderate) and from the more moderate right (that see them as too extreme). Put differently: if hybridization allows extreme-right groups to capitalize on visibility and diffuse fringe ideas across the Italian mainstream, it still does not allow them to escape marginalization, since it runs the risk of alienating both radical and moderate audiences in the long run.

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