Italian antifascists march against fascist thuggery

By Searchlight Team
By Mark Scholl

Anti-fascists demonstrated in Rome last Thursday to protest about right-wing street thuggery – in particular the actions of a group of CasaPound fascists who had opportunistically pounced on and beaten up some passer-by students. The event drew opposition politicians, trade unionists and ANPI, the organisation dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of the Partisans who resisted Mussolini and Hitler before and during the Second World War.

It’s no great surprise that the street soldiers of Italian fascism, numbered in the thousands, are stepping up attacks on leftists, liberals and immigrants. Italian politics has long been, at best, febrile, volatile and emotional. It also has a history of violence, whether from the far left (including the Red Brigades) or the far right – Ordine Nero, the Bologna bombings and the mid- to late-70s ‘Years of Lead’.

Into this historical maelstrom enters a changing Italy. An Italy that both needs foreign workers and despises their presence. An Italy where the Roman Catholic church is less influential than in the past. An Italy where the once powerful Italian Communist Party (PCI) of Enrique Berlinguer is but a distant memory. Years ago, communist and socialist politics existed not only at the highest levels of political power but across the grass roots.

These days, grass roots left groups are nowhere near as active within working class communities as they used to be. In some cases, fascist groups such as CasaPound have moved in to occupy the vacuum, providing food banks and free medical services in the most vulnerable areas, often neglected or even forgotten by politicians in Rome. (This is a strategy that British groups on the far right are slowly beginning to take to heart, and an outcome that our own mainstream politicians should learn a lesson from).

CasaPound is now more than 20 years old, having been founded in 2003 by veteran fascist Gianluca Iannone (above). He was joined in his activities by four others who broke into, and effectively took over, a building in Via Napoleone III in Rome’s Esquilino neighbourhood (below). Having fascist friends and sympathisers in high places works nicely for CasaPound, which has occupied the technically state-owned building, now its de facto HQ, ever since.

Although the group had its origins in a previous squat called CasaMontag (named after the antihero of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451), Iannone came from the more conservative Tricolour Flame party (Fiamma Tricolore). But CasaPound is radical. Its name means Pound House, in honour of the antisemitic poet Ezra Pound, who lived in Italy for many years after the Second World War.

CasaPound’s ideology – its style, if you like – is calculated to appeal to youth. Leftist leaders such as Che Guevara and other 60s radicals are much beloved, at least on the surface. Marxist economics is discussed alongside Tolkien and HG Wells. Casual street clothing and modern music are preferred. No clownish 1930s fascist uniforms or military bands here.

Some have described CasaPound as ‘fascist hipsters’ and they have a point. There is a focus on music festivals, right-wing rap, an active social scene and a community spirit. The CasaPound HQ alone houses around 60 people. Squatting, historically more of a left-wing movement, has spread to several dozen similar buildings / communities.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni comes from strictly fascist roots. She was active in the National Alliance student movement, the successor party to Giorgio Almirante’s post-war fascist MSI party. The unapologetic fascism of Almirante met with considerable success in the late 60s and early 70s, though he never won over the workers.

But Meloni affects a different image. Seeking ‘good optics’ she wears chic clothes, presents well and is a popular figure within some segments of Italian society. Her anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric has also been tempered by a huge dose of reality. Migration has not declined under her premiership but risen. Cheap talk about ‘sending them back’, Fortress Italy, and using the navy to stop the boats are more popular rhetoric than political policy.

The sticky problem of dealing with mass migration, caused largely by war and famine in Africa and the Middle East, cannot be solved by Meloni-style politics. No matter how much money she raises from Italian big business, and no matter how many right-wing free market think tanks she impresses, the results are the same.

This is the atmosphere in which the street-level movement has begun to flourish. In parallel with the stylised, partly sanitised and slightly stifled fascism of Meloni, out of the shadows step CasaPound and their fellow travellers from fascist hooligan firms and youth groups such as Blocco Studentesco. These are not the kennel club dogs of Melonismo. These are the rabid street dogs. And they bite.