You’d be forgiven for thinking that a group of zine-publishing techie squatters into rock music, baiting the state and defending the working class were part of the anarchist left. But, writes the Moyote Project, Italy’s Casa Pound movement is symptomatic of the radical right’s growing ability to assimilate progressive agendas into a toxic and populist political brew.
In 1973 the Italian neo-fascist group Nuova Destra (New Right) started publishing the DIY fanzine The Voice from the Sewer, as an ironic response to the left-wing slogan that incited (neo)fascists to return to the only place that they possibly could have emerged from. Yet now, more than 25 years on, it appears as if the fragmented, contradictory and unrepentant universe of the Italian radical right has crawled out of the sewer and entered the public sphere with its head held high. Armed with new tactics, a rousing new vocabulary and a rehash of old ideologies – and making use of the latest in graphic design – it has carved out for itself a space which is precariously balanced between the street and the various state institutions and are achieving pernicious success in both arenas. It labels itself the non-conforme right and ‘third millennium fascists’1. Its recent successes and new found abilities in interpreting the moods and swings of our times suggest that its recent, surprising re-emergence cannot be filed away as something symptomatic ,merely, of an appearance of detritus from the past. A closer look at its tactics, ideological baggage and at the role it plays in contemporary Italy is now more than warranted.
Casa Pound screams:Man needs to be liberated.
The market kills the soul.
The law of profit sweeps away all obstructions that come in its way.
Workers, peoples, communities.
Love, joy, sacrifice and diversity. Destroyed.
– Casa Pound, ‘Who We Are’2
One of the most important and innovative configurations within the radical right galaxy is undoubtedly represented by the movement known by the name of Casa Pound (CP). Our choice to concentrate on this particular epiphenomenon stems from the fact that Casa Pound and its peculiar characteristics represent an important turning point in the Italian neo-fascist historical landscape. More fundamentally, an analysis of this particular social movement can act as a magnifying glass that will allow us to focus on the development of the radical right, the birth of a ‘plural right’ and the political and social circumstances that favoured their contemporary rise in Italy.
Casa Pound was born in 2003 from the occupation of a state-owned building in the central and multicultural neighbourhood of Esquilino in Rome, by a group linked to the radical right milieu in the capital. The occupation was termed an OSA occupation (A Scopo Abitativo, ‘for living purposes’), in that a number of families were housed in the building. Besides being a residential squat, Casa Pound also became the base for the activities of the growing movement, and its symbolic locus. More occupations followed, some of them were OSAs and some were born as ONCs (Occupazioni Non Conformi – ‘occupations that do not conform’). The latter ones were conceived as social spaces that were to be open to the public, as spaces for the dissemination of culture, community and sports activities. This, we could observe, mimicked the function and style of left-wing social centres. Their main purpose has always been the creation of a sense of community, the strengthening of collective social ties and the forging of diverse connections within their specific localities. Casa Pound members were in effect reclaiming the normally left-wing activity of squatting and on their web site they announced: ‘the reactionary stereotype that defines the occupation of empty buildings as an exclusive practice of the left is forever shattered.’3
And thus, after establishing itself and taking root in the capital, CP developed as a national organisation and then proceeded to branch out into numerous cities in the country. It opened spaces (both occupied and not) and established for itself a growing platform for political manoeuvring. It now possesses significant political weight in Northern Italy throughout parts of that region which have been characterised by a strong right-wing tradition such as Verona and Milan. Nonetheless its presence in the South is also becoming very significant (Catania and Naples are just two cities where the CP’s presence is substantial).
However, the first occupations in Rome have remained the most significant ones in terms of their duration and rootedness. One important characteristic of the ONCs is that they have emerged from a desire for a space of collective sociality and cultural production, rather than from an explicitly political and ideological drive. The musical scene that developed around the band ZetaZeroAlfa (ZZA) was absolutely central in this process, acting as a catalyst for the emergence of the movement. ZZA’s lead singer and frontman is Casa Pound’s charismatic leader, Gianluca Iannone. He has long been a major figure in the radical right political scene in Rome and is known to be close to names involved in the ‘black terrorism’ season of the ’70s. This musical scene has helped Casa Pound widen and strengthen its social base; it provides the important link between the subcultural dimension of a youth experience that finds its raison d’être in a generically rebellious and anti-conformist identity, and the experiences of a more ideologically defined political militancy.
The ‘metapolitical’, or pre-political dimension connected to musical expression, to culture and to the development of a collective imagination, is key to CP’s ability to fascinate and attract the attention of a growing number of young people. The ONCs host gigs, collective dinners, book presentations, cultural events; they organise mountain excursions and talks about ethnic minorities whose struggles garner popular support (Palestine has been one such example, but the Karen people have also been given attention). In Centri Sociali di Destra, Di Tullio says that,
The occupations of the radical right represent a new synthesis between metapolitical drives and a different approach to non-party politics; ones that are less unrealistically projected towards ideologies and closer to the everyday lived realities of the vast majority of people4.
Despite playing an absolutely key role in the constitution of new right-wing social formations, an appreciation for the metapolitical is nonetheless strongly supported by a political and ideological dimension that – behind the innovative communication strategies and the language used – is in direct relation to themes and issues typical of the anti-bourgeois and state-critical Social Right, the roots of which may be found in Mussolini’s first theorisations and then re-emerging more explicitly in the experience of the Italian Social Republic of Salò (RSI, 1943-1945), as will be seen in more detail below.
The political issues that Casa Pound engages with through its educational events and political actions cohere around a few strong themes. These include the right to ownership of housing, struggles against the rising cost of living and the defence of the traditional family (which is understood as the basic unit of the nation). They have included the dissemination of revisionist theories, the critique of usury derived from the work of Ezra Pound and the study of historical and intellectual figures linked to or associated with the Social Right (such as Julius Evola, Alessandro Pavolini, and J.R.R. Tolkien)5. The range of intellectual influences also includes the recuperation of figures traditionally associated with left-wing culture with the most obvious example of this tendency being the appropriation of the work of Che Guevara. All of this is set against an ideological backdrop which is rife with anti-capitalist and anti-statist tendencies, which include the refusal of neoliberal worldviews and the defence of workers’ rights (although understood to be limited to a nationalist frame of reference).
The main campaign on which CP has concentrated its efforts concerns the issue of the right to housing and the proposal for a ‘social mortgage’. Through direct actions coordinated at a national level, CP has tried to bring into existence a housing policy that would guarantee all ‘white’ Italian workers the right to own a property. They have proposed a bill – which the coalition in power is in part considering implementing – that would guarantee access to a ‘social mortgage’ for the purchase at cost price of a property managed by a public institution. The actions that have accompanied this campaign, which were of a symbolic and spectacular nature, have ranged from the hanging of mannequins to represent the Italian families strangled by mortgages, to an invasion of the Italian Big Brother set, which is seen as ‘an insult to all those Italians who are victims of the housing crisis’. CP’s decision to use occupation as a tool has to be read in conjunction with this struggle for the ‘social mortgage’, as an ideological stance and active political response to the difficulty of accessing affordable housing for a large section of the population. There has been a clear choice to concentrate on issues that have the potential to engage the poorest non-migrant sections of society and that have the potential to cary the most potent social charge. These choices represent a continuity in ideals with the tradition of the historical Social Right, but if they are seen in conjunction with the parallel attempt at obtaining political legitimacy, they should also be interpreted as symptoms of a fundamental break with the dynamics that the radical right has been part of since the post-war years. It is necessary to look at this historical conjuncture in a more detailed way so that we can appreciate the nature of the shifts now taking place in Italy.
The period we will take into consideration in order to summarise the history of neo-fascism – 1946-1995 – has been chosen because it represents the date of birth and of death of the main radical right-wing, Italian political party: the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI – Italian Social Movement). At the end of the Second World War, Italy, still lacerated by the bloody wounds of the fascist barbarity and the Nazi invasion, witnessed the formation of this collective political subject that positioned itself in radical continuity with the ideals of the defeated fascism. The MSI recuperated a so called ‘social version’ of fascists, which had been incarnated in the Italian Social Republic of Salò. One of the main ideological reference points of this political strand was this republic’s Verona Charter of 1943, which in its 18 points called for an absolutist fascist state to be founded on a corporatist model of labour relations where workers would have a stake in the profits of production, creating a cross class unity and a dissolution of class conflict. It championed land redistribution and a highly regulated version of private property relations permeated through and through by various anti-capitalist tendencies – whilst guaranteeing the individual’s right to ownership of a private home.
The main objective of the MSI in the immediate post-war years was to offer a comprehensive ideological worldview and a refuge for all the defeated fascists who did not want to leave the ideals of the dictatorship behind. The party thus naturally became the central hub of the Italian far right, and local party offices opened their doors to different groups of camerati, despite the fact that in their midst a myriad of neo-fascist currents and groups developed. Some of these groups were extremely distant from and even in direct contradiction with official party lines. The post-war Italian landscape relegated fascists to a marginal and isolated position – although this was true more on a social than on a political level. And it was this fact that pushed so many right-wingers into embracing previously denigrated forms of what had once been thought to be specifically ‘radical forms’ of political activism, as well as to engage in their own conspiratorial plots for coups and ‘revolutionary plans’.
It has to be pointed out that the internal and international dynamics of Italian political life of the post-war years were extremely complex: Italy was a member of NATO and occupied a strategic position on what might be described as a kind of European political chess board, and it was also home to the strongest and most organised Communist Party (PCI) in the western world. Many, and in particular the USA, had observed the internal Italian social and political situation with growing apprehension given the then international political uncertainty. In this condition of strong social tension and definite class polarisation, neo-fascism can be seen to have taken on a central and ambiguous role. The various groups (some of them armed and terrorist) were ferociously anti-communist and were to became the bloody executors of a strategy of tension that aimed to create chaos precisely in order to guarantee order. The intent was to provoke an anti-communist and authoritarian political strategy by carrying out acts of destabilisation (which were orchestrated in such a way that their political adversaries would be held responsible for them)6. Although these politics of dissimulation and deception were quite forcefully put into play, they were not lauded by some sectors of the radical neo-fascist scene who did not wish to be forced to go along with their prescribed role of being agents for both the Italian state apparatus, its intelligence service and their respective conspiratorial policies.
Although these groups did essentially agree with the strong anti-communist ideology of the Italian State and intelligence service, they also manifested their own anti-American worldview, embracing anti-imperialism and opposing themselves to the prevailing image of American society as paradigmatically individualistic and composed of a vast array of alienated subjects. This was theorised by Julius Evola, who became known as the neo-fascist ‘black baron’.
These currents started developing a practice of actions that would work against the system and not for its ultimate defence. One of the main formations that emerged was Terza Posizione (TP – Third Position), a name that refers to the incompatibility of their ideological worldview with both communism and capitalism, and was summarised in their slogan ‘neither red front, nor reaction’. TP configured itself as a ‘subversive’ group holding to national-socialist and anti-bourgeois positions.
Terza Posizione’s practices were influenced by the cultural and political climate of the time, and by a certain contradictory fascination with left-wing movements. This fascination had manifested itself since 1968 – with the presence, for example, of Nazi-Maoist and Guevaraist groups within the Law Faculty in Rome. The expulsion of the trade unionist Luciano Lama from the capital’s Sapienza University had been admired by the neo-fascists who, while continuing with their attacks on ‘comrades’ for the territorial conquest of the streets, had on more than one occasion pushed for an ‘overcoming of the differences’ in an attempt to create a bipartisan convergence of the different-sided political factions against the real enemy: the State7.
One important aspect of all this is that – especially between the ’60s and ’80s – neo-fascist militancy was characterised by a strongly minoritarian and ghettoised social and political position, with groups entrenched in the MSI offices. One of the novel elements of groups like Terza Posizione was their determined attempt to leave the ghetto behind and become involved in the realm of social struggles. A seminal experience in this sense was TP’s struggle in the working class and communist neighbourhood of Palamarola in Rome to support the regularisation of extra-legal housing erected by local residents8.
These centrifugal tendencies within MSI that have gravitated towards a ‘social and anti-statist neo-fascism’, have clashed for years with much more pragmatic currents within the party – the ones that have envisaged institutional politics as the route to be taken towards a reconquest of the ‘unpresentability’ of neo-fascist understanding and action. The statist current was the one that eventually lead the party to its dissolution in Fiuggi in 1995, and that became responsible for a new ‘post-fascism’ that is incarnated in the ‘respectable’ and ‘democratic’ party Allenaza Nazionale (AN – National Alliance). The initial motivating desires and the radical tendencies of the previous social fascism are not erased in their recent emergence though. On the contrary, from that moment on, they have had to find other forms of expression. It is in the cultural and political climate of the last ten years that these tendencies have found fertile soil for their own rapid proliferation and for their frightening and often successful attempts to establish a national consensus that is germane to their very interests.
These more radical inclinations and tendencies have found a space to grow in the processes that led to the affirmation of a cultural hegemony of the right in Italy. Since the profound crisis of institutional politics – which erupted with the corruption inquests in the early ’90s commonly known as Tangentopoli (literally, ‘Bribesville’) – the right in Italy has experienced not only an overwhelming electoral success, but it is also said to have become culturally hegemonic in new ways. The ability to intercept and interpret the changing political, social and economic dynamics at play in the country and the imposition of an ubiquitous racist, identitarian and reactionary order of discourse as a way of explaining these dynamics, has been the foundation on which this hegemony has been built.
The capacity to understand the new subjectivities that have emerged out of the restructuring of the system of production over the last 20 years, and the construction of the category of the ‘illegal migrant’, have been instrumental in this process. The fears that have grown among the working class as a result of widening social inequality and rising generalised insecurity have been given a voice. At the same time, the right has been able to harness the support of the new categories of workers that have emerged, specifically those that have been described as ‘second generation autonomous workers’, an expression that refers to the growing class of precarious and flexible workers specific to the post-Fordist productive landscape9.
At the same time, the institutional right has undergone a process that led to its redefinition as a ‘plural right’ – a synthesis was created that allowed different political cultures, which were at times openly at odds with each other, to coexist within the same coalition. According to Caldiron – one of the major analysts of the right in Italy – this process has taken place on two separate levels, one political and one cultural. On a political level this synthesis is incarnated in the figure of Berlusconi who has acted as a catalyst for the successful mediation between divergent tendencies within the right. Berlusconi’s populist ability has been to bring into politics the particular and peculiar power of television to create dreams and lifestyles. On a cultural level the right can be said to have acted as an ‘entrepreneur of fear’. It has done so by determining all public debate and inscribing it within the categories of territory, identity and community. This is articulated and produced as a state of emergency, whilst the anxious refrain of the ‘migrant invasion’ is constantly reiterated.
It is in this recomposition of the right that phenomena such as Casa Pound find space and legitimacy, albeit in an ambiguous fashion. In the cultural and political milieu defined as the ‘plural right’ the traditional role of neo-fascist militant youth groups has mutated. They tend to adopt a strategy of entrismo, that is, they are given the possibility of gaining a certain degree of legitimacy and of influencing institutional matters whilst preserving their outsider status. In practice – and this is true especially at the local level – the relationships between the radical right and the right-wing parties in power are becoming closer. Representatives from groups of the radical right appear in the electoral lists of the ruling party, Popolo della Libertà (PdL – People’s Freedom), the party that embodies the spirit of the ‘plural right’. Each side is, at times and in fractured ways, instrumental to the other: the radical right gains legitimacy and space for movement in the relation to other political parties – PdL but also Lega Nord (Northern League), the federalist party that seeks independence for the North of Italy. The ruling parties find Casa Pound’s extreme stances useful to push the level of the political debate even further around social control, whilst at the same time widening their electoral and non-electoral reach. Nonetheless the relationship is and remains an ambiguous one, with no stable and univocal connections.
A paradigmatic case that exemplifies this complex relationship can be found in the recent revolt of Rosarno (Calabria), an event that dominated news headlines in January 2010. After the umpteenth episode of violence suffered at the hands of the local population, the migrant workers employed in Rosarno’s orange harvest demonstrated and rioted against the inhumane treatment they are subjected to on a daily basis. The casus belli for the riot was the shooting and wounding of two migrant workers. The riot was followed by episodes reminiscent of a pogrom, with local Italian residents relentlessly attacking the migrant workers. The reaction to the events has been a generic condemnation of all ‘violence’, where the shots fired at the migrants and the riots were made equivalent. The ‘social contradictions’ that emerged from the events were minimised and reduced to public order and security issues. The ultimate responsibility for these contradictions was attributed to the migrants, who were once again criminalised and depicted as a new dangerous class.
In the days after the revolt, a Casa Pound delegation visited Rosarno to show its solidarity with the local Italian residents who had been accused of racism by the foreign press. The communiqué circulated by CP on this occasion expressed solidarity with the ‘indigenous’ residents on the basis of their assumed ‘Italian-ness’, whilst at the same time it asked for state intervention to punish the exploiters of the cheap and mostly foreign labour force. In the heated climate of those tense days, few other right-wing groups could have shifted the focus of the debate towards identitary positions, bordering on ‘blood and soil’, in such an unabashed fashion, whilst at the same time managing to express their presumed proximity to the workers through the denunciation of the exploiters. The Government’s response was to intervene with a heavy police presence, repression and mass deportations, whilst Berlusconi’s official declarations presented the issues in a heavily racist frame in which illegal migration and criminality were equated.
One of the most controversial aspects of Casa Pound’s ideology that emerges is their supposed ‘anti-capitalist’ sentiment, based on a critique of workers’ exploitation and of the commodification of all life, whilst at the same time proposing a corporatist model based on the collaboration between workers and bosses in the name of the supreme good of the nation. What remains to be considered is to what extent CP’s actions can influence governmental decisions, and, more importantly, to what extent they are forging an attitude that is ‘rebellious’ and that can be integrated in the novel and rampant common sense of the plural right.
Extraordinary action, when necessary.Force the media to momentarily forget about the gossip, forget about the useless soporific chatter of the parliamentary class.
– Casa Pound, ‘Political Activity’10
One of Casa Pound’s major accomplishments has been the ability to recompose the fragmented universe of the radical right. In the contemporary political and cultural context, where racist notions are largely tolerated and the identification with the nation to the exclusion of foreigners is endemic, CP has sought legitimacy at different levels, both on the ‘street’ and in the world of media and politics, by putting itself forward as a credible interlocutor on social issues. Casa Pound members define themselves as ‘third millennium fascists’, thereby underlining an ideal continuity with the past, and at the same time signalling their capacity to interpret and intervene in the present.
One of the challenges that Casa Pound has taken on has been to become an attractive collective subject for a universe of young right-wing activists involved in other groups or tired of the moderation of the mainstream party, Allenanza Nazionale. But it has also become a convergence point for many ‘street and stadium gangs’ who are close to Nazi/skin groups and to right-wing football supporters11. Casa Pound has grown in numbers thanks to its attempts to project a radical image coupled with the attempt to gain political legitimacy. After much effort Casa Pound has gained a considerable following among high school students, particularly in Rome and Verona. This has led to the emergence of the Casa Pound student branch, Blocco Studentesco (BS – Student Block), an important reservoir of activists and supporters. The establishment of student groups in high schools has been an unachieved aim of the extreme right since the student movements of ’68 and ’77; so this success is notable.
The episode known as ‘the Piazza Navona clashes’ is a clear example of how the strategy of searching for a parallel legitimisation is implemented. In October 2008, members of Blocco Studentesco attempted to place themselves at the head of a massive student demonstration in Piazza Navona, Rome. The slogan used on the day was ‘neither red nor black, only free thought’, a slogan which contains an ideological legacy from Terza Posizione. A scuffle ensued, and the student demonstrators made an attempt at pushing the fascists out of the square. The reaction of the Blocco was organised and prompt. Armed with batons covered in Italian flags, they proceeded to defend themselves and attacked their adversaries. Subsequently Blocco Studentesco tried, with moderate success, to pass themselves off as the victim of barbaric anti-fascist aggression in the media’s narrative of the events. What emerges is, on one side, the desire to project an image of the militants as courageous street warriors – an important symbolic message for both the militants and for their opponents. At the same time the events were clearly orchestrated in such a way that the media and the political world would condemn the ‘aggression’ against Blocco Studentesco on the grounds of the student demonstrators’ supposed ‘anti-fascist bias’. As the attempt to discredit anti-fascist history and action has been a long term project on the part of the entire right-wing spectrum, the Piazza Navona events also helped further this effort.
These events are also significant as they reveal the attention that CP pays to the media and the ability it has to use mainstream media mechanisms to its own advantage. Nonetheless it is in the sphere of self-produced media that more innovative approaches emerge. The political legitimation game and the effort to expand the consensus is thus not played out on the street alone. The investment into creating a cultural universe that could potentially have a profound impact is very strong. One online radio and one online TV station (Radio Bandiera Nera and Tortuga TV), two magazines, one regularly updated website and a myriad of satellite websites, are an impressive numbers of outlets for a movement such as CP, and they certainly reveal how important communication is considered to be. They also reveal a desire to project an image of a movement that is very much alive, that intervenes in contemporary events, that is active, and that comments and debates, as it did during the Rosarno crisis.
From a stylistic point of view, their media present a solid homogeneity and a carefully designed graphic aspect – capital letters strictly in Verdana font are coupled with intense but limited colours, red/black/white. The language used is vivid and engaging, and it is mainly based on slogans, incitements and abstract concepts rather than on articulated ideological positions, and at times it manifests an unexpectedly ironic streak. As mentioned above, music is absolutely central and helps in the creation of a common identity on which much of CP’s appeal is based. One of their ideological pillars remains the cult of the fight, of physical confrontation and of the discipline of the body which, in conjunction with a rebellious approach and anti-conformism, attract younger activists. Many of the milieu’s activities focus on the creation of a shared cultural and moral universe in which activists can invest the totality of their lives. The sense of the creation of a community is absolutely central. It is a community that recognises itself in a common identity, one based on a shared lifestyle, on an ethical model, in a national culture. In this sense CP is actively trying to create communitarian responses to drives and needs, both material and immaterial, that do not find answers elsewhere, such as the need for housing, social life, security and a collective identity.
We envisage that in the near future Casa Pound will develop from a movement to a more organised structure and will attempt to take part in electoral democracy as an independent entity. How this experiment will turn out is not of central importance nor does it concern us too deeply – what is of greater interest and what will leave a longer lasting legacy will have more to do with CP’s creation of a permanent sense of fear and alarm, and its skill at providing solutions based on identitarian politics.
Moyote Project are Franco Berteni, Denis Giordano and Caterina Sartori. They spend their time between the deepest North Italian provinces, London and Paris. They manage to survive precariously by typing, researching, filming, sending pensioners to the tropics, serving drinks and answering the phone in no particular order.
- 1. ‘Destra non conforme’ is the term that the new radical right uses to define itself, in an attempt to distance itself from party politics and traditional neo-fascist ways of organising. Literally the term means ‘right that refuses to conform’. Since it does not translate well, we will use the term ‘radical right’ throughout the article.
- 2. See http://casapounditalia. org/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=35&Itemid=60 libcom admin: link broken to hostile website.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. D. Di Tullio, Centri Sociali di Destra. Occupazioni e Culture Non Conformi, Rome: Castelvecchi, 2006, p.34.
- 5. Tolkien has been historically appropriated by the right in Italy and inserted into its ideological pantheon.
- 6. ‘Strategy of tension’ refers to the co-ordinated attempt to destabilise the country through a series of terrorist massacres known as stragismo, the first episode of which was the bomb at Piazza Fontana on 12 December 1969, and continued with numerous bloody episodes, including the bomb at Bologna railway station on 2 August 1980. Despite the fact that the material responsibility of neo-fascists has been proven, these attacks remain largely unpunished and full light has not yet been shed on those who mandated them.
- 7. The incident of Lama’s expulsion occurred in Rome when, on 16 February 1977, the secretary of the trade union CGIL wanted to rally in the occupied university. The student movement and the ‘autonomia’ had been critical of CGIL and PCI for some time, and saw the rally as a provocation. After scuffles between the union’s security and the movement, Lama was famously chased out of the university by students.
- 8. See G. Adolfi and R. Fiore, Noi Terza Posizione, Roma: Settimo Sigillo, 2000.
- 9. See S. Bologna and A. Fumagalli, Lavoro Autonomo di Seconda Genrazione, Rome: Feltrinelli, 1997.
- 10. http://casapounditalia .org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69&Itemid=90 libcom admin: link to hostile website broken.
- 11. See V. Marchi, La Sindrome di Andy Capp. Cultura di Strada e Conflitto Giovanile, Rimini: Nda press, 2002.