Casa Pound and the new radical right in Italy 'Extraordinary action, when necessary', Casa Pound's student branch in clashes at the Piazza NavonaYou'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
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.Post-Fascism 1946-1995: Guaranteeing Order or Waiting for the Wind of Revolution?
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 State 7.