In 1945, Italian fascists saw US forces as occupiers, not liberators. Yet in postwar decades, neofascists sought to insert themselves into the Western anti-communist alliance: an “Atlanticism” that continues to inspire the far right today.
Young members of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) during a demonstration in Rome, 1971. (Mondadori via Getty Images)
Heading opinion polls ahead of September 25’s snap general election, Giorgia Meloni is at pains to assert her Fratelli d’Italia party’s “Atlanticist” credentials. Her party is the heir to the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) created by defeated fascists in 1946, and its logo still includes the MSI tricolor flame symbolizing the revival of the old cause. Yet Meloni insists that the party’s Mussolinian connections lie long in the past — with its commitment to NATO supposedly proving its establishment bona fides.
Yet this also isn’t ever so new, even compared to the openly neofascist parties of past generations. While the MSI was a small and mostly marginal force in postwar Italian politics, already from the 1950s many of its lieutenants turned to seeking a place for themselves within the mainstream center-right, in the name of a shared anti-communism. The approach taken by “post-fascists” today is no sudden change of heart, but the product of a decades-old strategy, which already bore fruits when they entered national government as part of Silvio Berlusconi’s coalitions in the 1990s and 2000s.
Gregorio Sorgonà is author of La scoperta della destra: Il Movimento sociale italiano e gli Stati Uniti, a recent study of the MSI, its efforts to insert itself into the Western anti-communist mainstream, and its ties to US politics and society in postwar decades. Jacobin’s David Broder spoke to Sorgonà about this party and its lasting influence on today’s Italian far right.
The beginning of the Cold War was a defining moment for post-1945 neofascists. Many were veterans of the Salò Republic, the Nazi-collaborationist regime which fought the Allied invasion and the partisans in 1943–45. So, what were their attitudes toward NATO — and were there doubts over embracing the old American foe as an ally?
The Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) founded on December 26, 1946, was mainly composed of defeated veterans of the Italian Social Republic (RSI; “Salò Republic”) of 1943–45. It inherited the RSI’s ideology, which strongly asserted that fascism was a third way between capitalism and communism. In the party’s early years, it associated this approach with the idea of not taking sides between the Soviet Union and the United States. The Cold War was not yet the focus of international politics, although it was clearly taking on bipolar connotations. But from spring 1947, two camps clearly emerged, thus calling for binary alignments.
The international political system was reflected in domestic political balances, including in Italy. It soon became clear what this meant for the far right — as it set on a path to joining the anti-communist side. In a few years, anti-communism became a preponderant element of MSI culture. This was because it was a legitimizing factor. Being neofascist in an anti-fascist republic clearly served to delegitimize them. Anti-communism was also acting in the opposite direction, even if MSI leaders were deluded about how much legitimization this really offered them.
The watershed moment was November 28, 1951, when the MSI’s Secretary Augusto de Marsanich, declared its support for NATO from an anti-communist, anti-Soviet perspective. From the outset, the neofascist right’s anti-communism had specific connotations: it was directed against an actually existing communism, i.e. against the USSR, understood as a communist but also a Asiatic power, which came from the East and challenged the West; but it was also directed against communist ideology as a universal project of social and civil emancipation. The MSI’s was not the democratic anti-communism that imagines fighting communism through reforms and broadening the mass base of democracies, but one based on a nondemocratic conception of politics and a non-egalitarian conception of social relations.
The MSI claimed to oppose the “twin materialisms” from Washington and Moscow. But how did it try to compete with workers’ and left-wing parties with its own “social” alternative?
This alternative existed more in party rhetoric than in reality. First, the MSI was weak in the center-north of the country, the heart of industrialized Italy. The Italian working class, largely aligned with the Socialists and Communists, had a very strong anti-fascist sentiment, driving the great strikes against the Fascist regime, and then the Resistance.
The social and electoral rooting of the neofascist right were, if anything, in the center-south, where the MSI tried to mobilize social groups nostalgic for the regime (landowners worried by the prospects of agrarian reform, but also the urban middle classes that had grown up with the bureaucratic expansion of the fascist state) and what we could define as the under-proletariat of the southern cities, a poor section of the population that was not very susceptible to the message of the Socialist or Communist left. In the south, the communists and socialists took root in the countryside, linking up with the peasant movement of land occupations. The southern cities were not affected by Resistance movements, having been liberated by the Allies in winter 1943–44 well in advance of the center-north, nor were they involved in collective social movements as in the countryside. The hubs of industry were very small.
For all these reasons, the Left and especially the Communists could not penetrate the southern cities for long. On the contrary, the neofascist right found fertile ground in sections of the urban population that were indifferent to the anti-fascist Republic and skeptical of politics and organized parties. The results of the 1946 referendum on establishing the Republic are the proof: the main southern cities voted to keep the monarchy, by huge margins.
The MSI tried to take root in this world, not so much through social policies, but more through cultural sentiments. For example, it adamantly attacked the structure of Italian democracy in which mass parties are central. Moreover, in the local elections of 1951–52, the MSI established an alliance with the National Monarchist Party, which allowed it to rack up excellent results in southern Italy. This was an important choice in terms of the social field to which it aligned itself.
Not only did the MSI not relate to the peasant movements for land reform, but it opposed them and allied itself with a party firmly hostile to this reform. The “social” rhetoric aside, the neofascists tried to position themselves in the part of society that was either dissatisfied with the reform policies of the Christian Democrats (DC) (as with the conservative landowners) or sensitive to messages nostalgic for fascism or, more simply, critical of the mass democracy born of the Resistance (sentiments widespread in part of the middle classes and the urban under-proletariat in the south).
I was interested by your reconstruction of the MSI’s first entry into parliament, and how the other parties tolerated its existence, within the context of their own opportunisms. What kind of “constitutional arc” or “cordon sanitaire” existed after 1945?
The MSI became part of parliament and therefore had political legitimacy, but was also outside the constitutional arc: majorities that rely on its votes were unthinkable. I would say that the initial cordon sanitaire toward the MSI was flexible. As the Cold War became more intense, especially in the early 1950s, anti-fascism was a less binding identity than anti-communism. For this reason, neofascists enjoyed a not insignificant informal legitimacy. Political and social containment was directed mainly against the workers’ movement and left-wing parties, particularly the Communists. Worker and peasant struggles were addressed not only by reforms, but also with repression that killed dozens. The MSI’s activities, however, were substantially tolerated, with rather milder containment.
As the Cold War became more intense, especially in the early 1950s, anti-fascism was a less binding identity than anti-communism.
This dynamic changed in the 1960s, and it was mainly after this that we can speak of a cordon sanitaire against the MSI as well as other right-wingers outside the spectrum of anti-fascism. In the 1950s, even a large city like Naples could be administered by a monarchist shipowner like Achille Lauro, who joined the MSI in 1972. From the 1960s onward, this became ever less likely: in the next decade, the MSI was pushed into a corner of the political system, though it was at the beginning of the 1970s that it scored its highest votes.
The break point was Fernando Tambroni’s government, formed in 1960 with the help of MSI votes in parliament. For this reason, the DC, Tambroni’s own party, challenged the government on anti-fascist grounds. The element that made the government crisis so dramatic was the choice to hold the Sixth MSI congress in Genoa, a city awarded a Gold Medal of the Resistance. This prompted a vast anti-fascist mobilization, driven above all by young people and starting from Genoa, preventing the Congress from taking place. This time, the protest spread from North to South and the government tried to brutally repress it. Tambroni’s defeat opened the door to the alliance between Christian Democrats and Socialists, a fundamental step in Italian history.
But this also marginalized the MSI. Until then, it had been divided between two projects: one part had sought to legitimize itself through anti-communism and was also prepared to abandon its nostalgic tones toward fascism: it had a strategy of insertion. A second part, made up of entrepreneurs of nostalgia, considered the nostalgic appeal to fascism indispensable, both out of cultural conviction and because they believed this would secure a hard core of militants and voters. The entrepreneurs of nostalgia thus preferred to be a small but secure minority represented in Parliament rather than choose the path of gradual legitimization. The failure of the Genoa Congress, revealing how entrenched anti-fascism was in Italian society, was paradoxically a success for this current of the MSI, which found, in the MSI’s isolation, a reason for its own survival.
So, this defeat of the MSI-backed Tambroni government also shaped the party’s internal life?
Certainly, this was a decisive moment, because the strategy of insertion became increasingly fragile, to the advantage of the entrepreneurs of nostalgia. Their main representative was MSI cofounder Giorgio Almirante, who had been chief of staff of the RSI’s Ministry of Popular Culture. This was also because the strategy of insertion, of legitimization, was fragile, motivated by political opportunism, and based on the simple idea that a radical anti-communism, regardless of its content, would legitimize the MSI to the point of reaching national government.
But this was not the case. It was an anachronistic anti-communism, imbued with a hierarchical, antidemocratic culture, hostile to the idea that communism could be opposed with social and political reforms, which in fact tended to call communism anything that smacked of progressivism, starting with the student movements. In other words, a culture contradictory to an orientation toward containing communism that was being adopted in Italy through reforms and the broadening of the mass bases of democracy. It was an anachronistic culture. So, paradoxically, between those who favored insertion and nostalgism, it was the nostalgics whose perspective was most likely to be able to endure.
In what sense could the MSI identify with a US-led, Western camp, beyond preaching an extremist anti-communism?
The West as seen by the MSI is basically a beleaguered community. We need only look at its different currents’ shared interpretation of African decolonization. They opposed this process, out of their anthropological biases — they believed African populations to be incapable of self-government — and because they saw European colonies as outposts of a Western citadel besieged by the USSR. Those were these grounds on which the MSI defended French rule in Algeria. So, the MSI considered groundless the idea that communism had to be fought through the global spread of democracy; rather, this would only ease the spread of communism.
The MSI considered groundless the idea that communism had to be fought through the global spread of democracy; rather, this would only ease the spread of communism.
It is no coincidence that, among US politicians, one of the figures they look up to is Barry Goldwater. They saw him as the nemesis of John F. Kennedy (JFK)’s New Frontier and hoped that if he won he could defend the West from an external context in which, the MSI thought, the spread of democracy risked being a Trojan horse for communism. In short, the MSI’s conception of the West was elitist, antidemocratic, fundamentally hierarchical and racist, based on the primacy of the white and European man, rather than democracy.
The 1950s and ’60s were also the years of Italy’s economic boom, the beginning of mass consumerism, but also the American culture of Hollywood, replacing the old Catholic-agricultural world. What kind of US culture could the MSI admire?
On an educated MSI member’s bookshelves, you would probably find Julius Evola, Ezra Pound — an American, but a peculiar case — and certainly Gabriele D’Annunzio and Giovanni Gentile. This meant a predominantly Italian and almost exclusively European culture, indebted to interwar European anti-Americanism. This latter saw the United States as fundamentally incapable of producing great culture, a nation whose highest philosophical expression is pragmatism: so, a meager culture, contrasted with an idealized Europe as the cradle of anti-materialist civilization.
The MSI reaction to the “culture industry” revived these impulses over the 1950s and ’60s. On the one hand was a conservative way of seeing them, for which American mass culture was a corruption of bourgeois customs and institutions, starting with the family, by proposing models of life based on violence, wayward youth, etc. On the other is an anti-bourgeois reaction, in which this contempt is directed at the culture industry’s attempt to portray reality as cleaner than it is. The idea that the United States was incapable of producing great culture lasted roughly until the 1960s, for instance writing that Edgar Allan Poe could not be American because his poetic work ran contradictory to the utilitarian spirit attributed to US culture.
The Italian right had looked carefully at the right wing of the Republican Party for years, but with Nixon the interest level rose.
Clearly this anti-Americanism was based on a profound ignorance of US culture and its complexity, treating it in the singular, as a monolith. From the 1970s, something changed. An initial tendency was in tune with the reactionary culture, but with a significant difference, i.e. identifying positive subjects in the US culture industry. This is the case of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood: the former is a symbol of the West fighting its external enemies, the Indians or the Vietcong, the latter its internal ones (criminals or “deviants”).
A second trend is the discovery of the anti-bourgeois America expressing the individual spirit against the mass society. I’m thinking of the enthusiastic reviews devoted to The Elephant Man or The Warriors, or attention for artists like Nick Drake and Patti Smith. And finally, there is a last trend that reevaluated Hollywood not for its immediate political content, as Wayne’s Green Berets might have been, but for its ability to propose grand narratives against an excessively intellectual art such as the Marxist left was accused of producing. That’s how they interpreted works like Star Wars, seeing in it political messages that probably weren’t there, but mostly being impassioned by its spectacular dimension. In the 1980s, the leanings toward anti-bourgeois America tended to disappear, but the reactionary tendency survived. MSI youth even publicly denounced The Last Temptation of Christ as blasphemous. But the tendency that most asserted itself was the one fascinated by the power of US popular culture.
The MSI’s focus on the United States was obviously also about seeking political legitimation. One interesting moment you discuss has neofascists trying to make themselves representatives of the Richard Nixon campaign in 1968. On what basis did they see a possible convergence — and what repercussions did they think internal US politics, especially around race, could have for the rest of the West?
The MSI attempted to support Nixon’s election campaign through contacts in some East-Coast Italian-American communities. The protagonists of this attempt were those MSI leaders who advocated the strategy of insertion. They admired Nixon because they shared some of his demands, saw in him a right-wing reaction to ’68, and considered him a bastion against the global advance of communism. The Italian right had looked carefully at the right wing of the Republican Party for years, but with Nixon the interest level rose, also because the MSI thought that when he won, Western Europe could move to the Right, legitimizing their party.
JFK’s presidency had coincided with the Socialists’ entry into the Italian government alongside the Christian Democrats, forming the so-called “center-left.” They thought and hoped Nixon winning could produce the exact opposite effect, unseating the Socialists and bringing a swing to the Right. This was a typical case of wishful thinking, because they underestimated how widespread anti-fascist sentiment against them still was.
This is demonstrated by a case in 1964, when the journalist Giano Accame, who had long been active in the MSI before leaving it in the late 1950s, tried to interview Goldwater. Accame worked through his channels in the American right, the intellectuals Thomas Molnar and William Buckley Jr. Despite their interceding, particularly by Buckley Jr, Goldwater turned down the interview. Accame wasn’t an MSI leader, instead being involved with right-wing newspaper Il Borghese, but I think a certain anti-fascist bias still weighed against him.
The neofascists took part in Nixon’s campaign, organizing the sending of election postcards from Italy.
The relationship the MSI sought with Nixon’s entourage was only partly analogous. They took part in his campaign, organizing the sending of election postcards from Italy. After the election, they tried to obtain greater legitimacy from their interlocutors (including Massachusetts governor John Volpe) by promising the definitive abandonment of nostalgic references to fascism.
In these dealings, the MSI leaders revealed a “proconsular” conception of foreign policy, based on the idea that the United States could decide, from above, the composition of Italy’s governments. Above all, there is a profound difference between what they expected from Nixon’s victory and what their interlocutors demanded. On the Italian side they hoped for political legitimization in parliament, but what their interlocutors instead demanded was that they should fight the communists in the streets.
This latter task fitted better with the profile that Almirante intended to give the MSI when he became its secretary in 1969. His proposal was irreconcilable with the strategy of insertion: he did not renounce nostalgic references to Fascism, supported clashes with the Left in the streets, and publicly threatened to undermine democracy if ever the Communists came into government. This was a marginal political option even in a “difficult” democracy like Italy’s, but it didn’t stop Almirante from establishing an excellent relationship with the then US ambassador in Italy, Graham Martin.
The MSI, according to several accounts, also benefited from substantial funding ahead of the 1971 local elections. The aim, in this perspective, was not to replace the pivot of Italian politics, which remained toward the DC, but to contain its relative leftward turn. The project, however, failed in the 1970s, also because the orientation of Italian society and politics toward the Left could not be controlled from above and would result, in the second half of the decade, in the birth of governments supported by the Italian Communist Party (PCI).
In the early 1970s, there was this feeling, or fear, that the PCI would finally reach government. There were also still the dictatorships in Greece, Spain, and Portugal. To prevent the PCI from coming to power, the MSI would embrace not only drastic and undemocratic measures, but also a curtailment of sovereignty. What about “national independence”?
Let’s start from the end: there is an obvious contradiction in the MSI’s political culture: the party is avowedly nationalist, but believes that national sovereignty is invalid if Communists are in government. A principle that was considered to apply even faced with experiences that try to reconcile communism with democracy. Telling was the 1973 coup d’état in Chile. While for the PCI the coup was the starting point of the strategy of historic compromise with Catholic Italy — i.e. of a further democratic legitimization of the party — the MSI’s reaction showed how undemocratic the far right’s political culture really was.
The MSI’s support for the coup was unconditional. On September 12, the party’s official organ Il Secolo d’Italia headlined in nine columns “For freedom in Chile, the military depose Allende.” On September 13, Almirante called the coup “a warning for Communist dictatorships.” On October 5, while PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer was launching the historic compromise, Almirante stated that while coups are not a desirable method of political struggle, the moment when communism comes to power there is a break in the constitutional order and this justifies the interruption of normal democratic mechanisms. On November 3, Almirante said that the Chilean military had expressed the freedom of parliament. He spoke of Chile in order to talk about Italy, even if these threats were rather blunt.
The MSI was an isolated party in society and politics, representing 6 to 7 percent of the electorate; and from 1974 onward the Mediterranean authoritarian regimes, which it had always looked up to, began to crumble. The MSI’s isolation at home was compounded by international isolation, and it now seemed to be sailing against the winds of history.
The “constitutional order” it purported to defend seems to have little to do with the real Constitution of the Italian Republic…
The constitutionality alluded to is the opposite of that enshrined in the Italian Constitution. In Almirante’s head there was an unofficial, unwritten Constitution based on anti-communism. But Italy was not Chile, was not the Greece of the colonels, Franco’s Spain, or Salazar’s Portugal — it was a democracy with the antibodies to react to the threats coming from Almirante and his party. The response to the Chilean coup proved the incongruity of its political culture with democracy, but also testified to its inability to translate its own conception of the world into a consequential political praxis.
It is no coincidence that the MSI played a relatively marginal role in the so-called “strategy of tension,” an expression referring to the attempt to use political violence to halt the left-wing mobilization of 1968–69, animated by student protest and the most intense cycle of workplace conflict in republican history. The most directly involved were the most radical parts of right-wing extremism, protagonists of an attempt to destabilize democracy that could benefit from the indulgence and sometimes the outright support of institutional figures.
The response to the Chilean coup proved the incongruity of the MSI’s political culture with democracy.
That said, the issue isn’t just what the MSI said about what was going on elsewhere: there was widespread violence in the Italy of those years, and even if the MSI didn’t have a political strategy of violent subversion, there aren’t always clear dividing lines between the MSI and terrorist forces.
The boundary between the MSI and neofascist subversion was not always clearly defined. Some MSI militants were involved in events related to the strategy of tension. One of the MSI’s national leaders was Mario Tedeschi, the editor of Il Borghese, belonging to that part of the reactionary press which fully shared the mental frameworks of the strategy of tension, starting with a one-sided narrative of political violence that blamed the Italian left for massacres which in fact sprang from a far-right matrix. The whole MSI shared the idea that the political violence and tension in 1970s Italy should be resolved through the strict containment of workers’ conflict and student protest. The party had no criminal responsibilities in the strategy of tension — a formula that for many reasons leaves one unsatisfied. I wouldn’t say that. But there is a political responsibility for the way the MSI dealt with neofascist atrocities.
However, the attempt to ride the wave of tension to suppress the demands that had emerged with ’68 was a failure. The MSI proposed a misogynist, patriarchal, hierarchical culture at a time when Italian society was going in the opposite direction: it voted en masse in a referendum to confirm the right to divorce, supported the expansion of civil and social rights, and recognized itself in the culture and symbolism of anti-fascism. In addition to the national and international political context, it was also the progressive orientation of Italian society in the 1970s that made the far right’s antidemocratic ambitions impracticable.
The end of the First Republic in the 1990s meant the overthrow of the Italian political landscape, and its main parties. There was no longer a Cold War and no longer a PCI. Yet there now came a new legitimization of the MSI, precisely on the basis of an aggravated anti-communism.
Especially in the 1990s–2000s, anti-communism was a distinctive element of Italian political discourse. A paradoxical situation, considering the PCI’s dissolution in 1991. Silvio Berlusconi often used anti-communism as an element of political polemic against his opponents, just as, between the end of the Cold War and the early 1990s, anti-communism was presented by the MSI as the principle of reference for a new Republic, to be built on a new constitutional text, in correspondence with the implosion of the main parties.
In Italy, anti-communism survived communism for several reasons. It survived because of a semantic dilatation of the term “communism,” especially from the Right, who applied it to anyone who happened to be on the Left. But anti-communism survived above all for reasons to do with the political architecture of Italy and the role the PCI played in it. The republican Constitution was written after 1945 with the Communists’ fundamental contribution. Elements of that political culture leave traces in the Constitution that survived 1991 and the end of communism. The link between Italian communism and anti-fascism underlying the Italian Constitution is, from the perspective of the Right, one of the reasons why it should be thoroughly rewritten.
If we look at the elements of political culture that characterize the contemporary Italian right, they are almost all opposed to the current Constitution.
Our Constitution establishes a form of democracy that affirms principles that contrast with the political culture of the Italian right. It affirms the centrality of parties and Parliament, aims for a welfare system that tends toward universalization, recognizes a strong public presence in the economy, promotes progressive taxation, etc. Now, if we look at the elements of political culture that characterize the contemporary Italian right, we can see how they are almost all opposed to this idea of democracy.
The MSI was no exception. The party had from the outset sought to transform Italy into a presidential republic, to radically reduce the weight of parliament, parties, and trade unions. There were also notable differences in terms of its economic culture. The MSI, which claimed to be inspired by socializing conceptions of the economy, was critical of progressive taxation, often dismissed public intervention in the economy as an instrument of currying favor for the governing parties, and opposed the main reforms geared toward universalizing the welfare state: this is evidenced by its opposition to urban reforms in the 1960s and to the establishment of the national health service in the 1970s. In the 1980s, this opposition hardened, also afar from skin-deep interest in certain arguments of the Anglo-Saxon neoliberal right.
In the Anglophone press we often hear a cliché that the left-behind working class vote for the far right out of rebellion against the effects of globalization and neoliberalism. But it seems to me — especially thinking about the recent Fratelli d’Italia (Fd’I) congress in Milan — that in the party’s discourse we find very little of this supposed appeal to the material interests of workers, and much more of this desire to capture the conservative camp, to defend free enterprise, etc.
The notion of the “social right” has traditionally been used in Italy to describe those parties — like Fd’I and the MSI from which it claims its heritage — that are supposedly sensitive to the demands of the weaker sections of the population. I consider this a classic example of demonstrative ideologism, in which rhetoric is disconnected from facts. Let’s start with an assumption: the entire Italian right, even today’s Fd’I, has taken on national and local government responsibilities since 1994. It is curious that this “social” right has been, for many years, a pivot of the political coalition led by Berlusconi. In other words, an entrepreneur who has always identified with a conspicuously right-wing economic discourse: opposed to progressive taxation and firmly on the side of employers in their negotiations with trade unions. These positions are obviously by no means restricted to the Italian right, but they have very little “social” about them.
The “social right” seems a principle difficult to reconcile with the “flat tax” proposals recently put forward by Matteo Salvini and Giorgia Meloni, leaders of the Lega and Fd’I respectively. The Italian right, in national and regional government, has certainly not stopped the privatization of health care, with the resulting inequalities in service between individual regions and between citizens according to income.
A similar argument can be made regarding labor legislation, which is geared toward ever greater precariousness. It would be wrong to separate all this from a more general context or to attribute responsibility for global dynamics, often accepted across political lines, to the Italian right. However, it is unclear that the “social right” has done anything to oppose the growth of imbalances between social partners or between citizens based on income.
So, the “social” veneer seems unjustified, even more so if we consider the way in which it deals with the issue of immigration. A case in point is the Bossi-Fini law — signed by the secretaries of the Lega and Alleanza Nazionale, i.e. the 1990s heir to the MSI from which the main leaders of today’s Fd’I come — a law that sought to hinder the integration of migrant workers into Italian society and that introduced discriminatory rules against them, increasing their precariousness in equal work with Italians and making it more difficult for them to organize in trade unions. I believe that the reasons for this Right’s success should be sought not in its “social” proposals but elsewhere, for example in its identity politics in response to the effects of globalization. But this is a subject that would need specific investigation.
Many researchers, such as Roger Griffin, have established a comparison (also following Piero Ignazi’s proposal) between the ideological metamorphosis of the ex-MSI and German social democracy’s “Bad Godesberg moment,” i.e. its formal renunciation of its Marxist origins. What do you think of this comparison? If today’s Fd’I is an “Atlanticist” and even free-marketeer party, what is the relevance of its historical neo-fascist matrix today?
Unlike the MSI, Fd’I is not a party that identifies with historical fascism. But it has never seriously addressed it as a historical problem. Rather, Fd’I harks back, including through its party symbol, to the MSI itself; Giorgia Meloni has often expressed unconditional praise for Almirante. Although there is no shortage of important cases of Fd’I politicians nostalgic for fascism, caught having dinners in honor of the March on Rome, telling antisemitic jokes, and extending Roman salutes, the Fd’I leadership prefers not to talk about fascism. They seem to adopt a reductive and trivializing portrayal, consistent with the indulgent view of fascism typical of a certain Italian right wing not necessarily nostalgic for the regime.
The reference to communism, on the other hand, remains a theme in the Italian right’s historical discourse, even if there is less recourse to the anti-communist theme in its strictly political discourse than in the past. For example, China is not attacked because it is “communist”— Giorgia Meloni has defined it as a capitalist-communist hybrid — but because it threatens the West’s positions of economic and political strength from the East.
It’s a mistake to see Italy’s right as an anomaly.
As for the idea that the Italian right, in order to fully legitimize itself, needs a liberal Bad Godesberg, I must say that I find this to be more of a wish among those who are not right-wingers. Recent history shows us that the Right in Italy and worldwide often increases its support — sometimes even becoming governing forces — precisely because it doesn’t take up the themes and methods of liberalism. On the contrary, gaining “liberal” credentials can be a limitation, almost an anachronism at a time when the prevailing models of the Right — just think of Bolsonaro, [Donald] Trump, or some European leaderships — are not liberal.
So, it’s a mistake to see Italy’s right as an anomaly. This interpretative key has paid little attention to the fact that right-wingers internationally, without ever questioning the economic and political supremacy of Western countries, manage to secure a broad consensus by playing on the contradictions of liberalism, trying to solicit, and not just represent, a phenomenon that is difficult to overestimate such as our societies’ fear faced with the uncontrollable outcomes of globalization.
For these reasons, Fd’I is not an economically liberal party: there is more of a collage of contradictory elements, in which pro–free market positions coexist with an economic nationalism that calls for the protection of “Italian” goods. The success, not only in Italy, of political options with nationalist and identitarian traits is certainly a sign of the shaky health of our democracies, but I do not at all believe that this problem can be solved through a “liberal democratic” normalization of our political cultures.Original post