Logo: Strike a Light by Rob Howard under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
by Heiko Koch
Changing political and economic situations generate new types of political protagonists - the far right is no exception here. Whether its structures and organizational forms endure, whether they diffuse (trans)nationally, whether their models prove successful, depends on various factors. A model that is currently about to serve as a flagship for the far right in Europe is the neo-fascist movement / party CasaPound. So why is this organizational model within the far right in Italy and Europe so successful?
My contribution is intended to shed light on the hybridity of CasaPound and the resulting force for the renewal of fascism. To carry out my argument, I will first describe the evolution of CasaPound from a movement to a party. Then I will discuss strategies and practices in terms of organizational and ideological hybridization, to finally outline the European dimension of the self-proclaimed "fascists of the third millennium".
Fascism for the third millennium? The evolution of CasaPound
In December 2003, the neo-fascist movement CasaPound was founded in Rome. Members of various national-revolutionary groups, the Roman White Power Music scene and the fascist Movimento Social Italiano - Fiamma Tricolore (MSI-FT) occupied under the pretext of allegedly anti-capitalist critique a six-story apartment building in the Roman district Esquilino, in the immediate vicinity of the main station Termini. The occupation was named "CasaPound" – referring to the anti-Semitic, US American writer Ezra Pound. Until 2008, CasaPound was closely linked to the traditional fascist party Fiamma Tricolore, but after an internal dispute in 2008 they split and appeared as a social association. In 2012, CasaPound registered as an official election party and appeared since then officially as CasaPound Italia. Since then, CasaPound acts not only as a movement on social, political and cultural levels, but also as a party in the institutional framework. In 2013, they participated for the first time in the Roman local elections - and 2015 nationwide. They attained some seats in the local counsils (also with the logo of "Sovranita" alliance with the Northern League). In 2010, CasaPound announced its number of members with 2,200. Today they speak of nearly 5,000 members.
Carried by a general swing to the right in Italy and supported by right-wing party structures, which saw CasaPound as a welcome and useful youth movement, the new movement succeeded to establish in far right contexts and beyond. Further, partly successful, occupations in Rome and other cities followed and in Italy a scene of right-wing social centers was born - the "social centers di destra". Their illegal and many times violent actions were hardly punished by the authorities. In the beginning of 2016, a report from the Interior Ministry became known that certified the fascists a fundamental legal compliance and high ethical disposition that ignored their racism and reduced their violence to a singular problem of individual members.1 So CasaPound remained undisturbed by authorities and state bodies and despite its aggressive appearance and numerous acts of violence freely developed its structures and growth.
Penetrazione Fascista: the penetration of everyday spaces
Parallel to the occupations, CasaPound founded a variety of social and cultural organizations. This socio-cultural sphere includes theater, art and cultural circles, social, health and civil defense organizations, right-wing NGOs - which are active abroad, an animal and nature protection organization, a scouting organization, a mothers association, and a trade union. Approximately 20 bars, restaurants, various tattoo shops and 15 bookstores serve as socio-political meeting points. A large number of the approximately 100 party offices belong to this infrastructure. This socially oriented activation strategy of CasaPound is in line with the tradition of the "social right" (destra soziale)2, serves a large network foundation and uses these organizations to penetrate social and cultural areas - the "penetrazione fascista".
With over a dozen music bands in line with the party, various ‘ultra-groups’, as well as many leisure and sports associations, they also affect the subcultural milieu to ensure a close link between sport and music events with political activism. Furthermore, CasaPound operated in the education sector by building up own organizations. The Blocco Studentesco, their student organization, is active in over 40 cities. According to their speaker, the Blocco Studentesco has received more than 27,000 votes nationwide in December 2015 – 11,000 in Rome and the surrounding provinces. In terms of (social) media, CasaPound possesses a large number of publications and propaganda organs. In addition to several small print media, they operate a large number of websites, Facebook pages, video channels, an Internet radio with various editors and an online newspaper. The degree of professionalisation in the media sector is considerable.
Additionally to this diverse infrastructure, CasaPound organizes a large number of small and large events, festivals and concerts, actions, rallies and demonstrations, conferences, conventions and campaigns, which take place all over the year and all over Italy and are attended by up to several thousand members and sympathizers.
Ethnicizing, polarizing, Escalating
The current campaigns of CasaPound reflect upon the traditional fascist positions, as well as the current debates of the European far right. CasaPound’s main field of agitation is currently the migration to Italy and Europe. CasaPound speaks of an invasion and proclaimed a stop to all forms of immigration. They oppose the "ius soli" and propagandize its own Italian identity versus all non-Italian. CasaPound’s rhetoric is extremely aggressive and their actions against refugee housings, as in the Roman district of La Storta in 2015, partially proceeded very violently.
A recurring theme of CasaPound is the Italy’s alleged social and cultural decay and the consequent decline of the praised values such as nation and state, people and family - a process of weakness and decadence for which CasaPound blames mainly left, liberal and democratic policies and immigration.
More campaigns testify the strong ultra-nationalism and continue the Italian irredentism and territorial claims on neighboring nations. CasaPound sets this posture provocatively into scene by e.g. demonstrations as in 2011 in the South Tyrolean city of Bolzano with the motto "Bolzano is Italy" or in 2015 with a national demonstration in the border town of Gorizia with the slogan "Stand up, fight, victory," to mark the entry into the war of Italy 1915 in WWI.
CasaPound portrays itself via national-revolutionary concerted actions as the savior of "national work" and the "national industry" concerning the area of impact of the economic crisis and the impact of austerity policies in the EU. Likewise in many ultra right-wing groups, it is the banks and the government, which are responsible for the crisis. These would either obey the dictates of the EU, the US or international finance capital or would exploit and suppress people and nation. Therefore, CasaPound propagates in a classical fascist style an autarkic economy, an all-encompassing national sovereignty and a cooperative community within an "organic" nation. The forms of action of their protest are often inspired by repertoires of emancipatory and left-wing groups – however, they appear in the context of CasaPound - nationalized and aggressive.
Blurring realities - the Hybridisation of CasaPound
CasaPound can be described as a political hybrid - as a movement that has succeeded in combining different, sometimes antagonistic thinking and logics from different cultural and social spheres of society, to establish new patterns of acting and thinking. Using the "centri sociali di destra" and the overall socio-cultural infrastructure to create new spaces has been attractive especially for young people, because this way a fusion of different social strata, right-wing scenes and subcultures emerged within the fascist everyday routine. Members and sympathizers radicalize in this parallel universe, and CasaPound creates new generations of neo-fascist activists by the constant penetration of their projects. Hence, CasaPound has partially managed to transform the heterogeneous nature of its members and sympathizers to their own symbiotic identity.
The diversity of socio-cultural influences in CasaPound acts synergistically and creates innovative cultural initiatives and new political cooperations – be it music projects, fashion brands and sports events, transnational organizations, campaigns or conventions.
CasaPound combines various, sometimes conflicting levels in their approach. As a movement, it uses the flexible level of lobbying for direct action in far right parties, as well as the variety of resources, access and effective forces of grassroots organizations and subcultures. As a party, CasaPound is protected by the party status and tries to use the mechanisms of the rigid, regulated level of parliaments and administrative power, taking advantage of this. The existing party status (since the end of 2012) also allows other social structures access to CasaPound, and widens its possibilities to influence and the access to power.
Additionally, a contemporization of traditional fascist images, aesthetics and public forms of action - a new staging of the Italian fascism - takes place within CasaPound via new right popular cultural approaches and the “right-wing gramscianism”. CasaPound’s applied strategies and methods inspired by the Nouvelle Droite modernize antiquated patterns of argumentation and rhetoric of Italian fascism. Familiar political shapes of discourse and dichotomous political localisations are undermined by the aesthetic camouflage, communication strategies and CasaPound’s ethnopluralism within the wide public. A new fascist image is created and lowers democratic resilience. The professional use of new media and social networks complete the implementation of media strategies and CasaPound’s campaigns.
CasaPound – a role model for the far right in Europe?
Despite its ultra-nationalism CasaPound considers their ideas as explicitly European ideas and is looking for exchange and cooperation with other right movements and parties in Europe since their existence - especially fascist, national-revolutionary and new-right groups and trends. In this sense, there exists a lively exchange between CasaPound and other right structures in Europe. The exchange of strategies, tactics and solutions to problems – i.e. transfer of ideology, economic, ideological and political support, as well as export of their organization model is CasaPound’s utmost concern. CasaPound has announced its own representative to take care of their foreign contacts. Since 2006, the network Zentropa serves as a transnational forum to convene CasaPound, French figures of the Nouvelle Droite and other international far right projects. During the last 10 years, they networked with like-minded people in just over a dozen European countries and this way managed, among other things, to establish the basis for a national-revolutionary conference held biannually in Paris. The conference was used by the Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov Regiment and their international branch "Reconquista" to openly promote their violent acting in the Donbass region.
The European participation in the White Power Music scene - and martial arts tournament called "Tana delle Tigri", which has been establish by CasaPound eight years ago in Rome - can be ascribed to this cooperation. Another transnational cooperation, which goes back to the Zentropa-founder, is "Solidarité identités onlus" (Sol.id), which was founded in 2011. Sol.id is a right, ethno-pluralistic NGO with operating projects in Burma, Palestine, Kosovo, in the Crimea, Kenya, South Africa and Syria. The projects on the Karens in Burma and the charitable solidarity actions with the Syrian Baath regime, held since three years, stand out. In 2013 the transnational European Front for Syria was founded to politically support the regime under Bashar al-Assad. In September 2015 CasaPound organized the ‘1. International Congress of identity-solidarity’ in Rome. Representatives of the Syrian government organizations, Islamic associations, representatives of Hezbollah and the National Socialist Party of Syria (SSNP) participated in this congress. Thus, even an international, geopolitical terrain in the hybrid CasaPound is recognizable.
An appeal and fascination for other right-wing movements in Europe is inevitable considering the diverse synergistic processes and innovative projects. And it is not surprising if CasaPound is conceived as an engine of renewal by many of their sympathizers. In the small Saxon town of Pirna the NPD office calls itself “House Monday”, referring to the first squat of CasaPound. In Spain the admiration of some National Revolutionary has extended in the sense that they copy occupation of houses (called Hogar Social) and others of CasaPound’s actions one-to-one. However, it remains unclear yet whether the model of CasaPound will have success outside of Italy.