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International Socialism, Spring 1981


Tim Potter

A Note on the Fascist Resurgence in Italy


From International Socialism, 2 : 12, (Spring 1981), pp. 119–121.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to the Lipman-Miliband Trust.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


While the article on the rise of fascist terrorism in the last issue of International Socialism was useful, it needs to be the start of more systematic work on the social and ideological roots of this phenomenon. It seems that in most European countries, the probability of a fascist revival had been discounted by the left for a number of years after the major street battles which characterised much of the activity of the left in the early and mid-seventies. Yet fascist groups, while having been substantially defeated on the level of parliamentary and mass politics have regrouped and reappeared in a much more violent form.

This has certainly been the case in Italy. In the first half of the 1970s the left organisations successfully stopped and threw back a major fascist advance both by opposing them on the streets and by isolating them politically. Attention shifted, rightly, away from the fascists to the attempts of the Italian Communist Party to enter government. Yet the fascists, while politically defeated, had by no means been destroyed. Since 1978, a new type of fascist terrorism has appeared. It reached its peak in the bombing of Bologna station in August where over 90 people died. While this massacre made the headlines throughout the world, it was only the most bloody example of a whole number of smaller attacks. Over the last few years the new right has carried out a series of shootings and the discovery of arsenals has been a regular occurrence. At the same time, there has been a rise in the number of racist attacks directed against both the Jewish community or the rising number of mainly Arab immigrants.

There have been substantial shifts in the style, social composition and ideology of Italian fascists over the last decade. In the late sixties and early seventies, the neo-fascist MSI, who regularly gain over 5% of the vote and have around 30 parliamentary deputies, acted as the essential link between the terrorist squads and parts of the state and ruling Christian Democrats. Essentially petty-bourgeois and enjoying mass support amongst parts of the southern unemployed, it looked back to the days of Mussolini as its ideological inspiration. Since the defeat of the ‘Strategy of Tension’ in the early seventies, the electoral advance of the MSI has been halted and the new fascist activity has emerged, in the main, outside of the MSI and without any real support within the state. At the same time though, it has linked up with the new social strains emerging in Italian society and has developed new and bizarre ideologies to match its social base.

The most striking change in Italian fascism today is its choice of targets. In the early seventies, fascist outrages were directed almost exclusively against the left and trade unions. Where attacks on trains and banks took place there was usually an attempt to blame the left for them. Now that has changed. The attacks on the left still carry on but the fascist groups have also assassinated police and magistrates. The reason for this shift in strategy is linked to the changes within the fascist membership and ideology. Whereas before the terrorist groups had been the operative arm of a coherent strategy aimed at installing a right-wing regime, the new fascists, in the main, scorn any involvement with the established parliamentary and state regime. Rather, they have taken a leaf out of the book of left wing terrorism. They claim they are trying to create a mass independent movement with the aim of a ‘revolutionary’ change of the state and the economy through the means of ‘armed propaganda’ carried out by small professional squads. Thus in May last year, to give just one example, fascists shot a policeman outside a Rome school in order to prove that they were the most extreme, the most implacable opposition to the discredited Italian state. The slogans of the fascists are often indistinguishable from parts of the left; walls in some neighbourhoods are covered with slogans calling for the overthrow of the multi-nationals, or denouncing the sacrifices that the workers are expected to make to rescue Italian capitalism.

To justify this ‘anti-capitalism’ the new fascists have developed an ideology based not on the traditional anti-communism but on a mystical pro-Aryanism. However weird it may sound there is a mini-cult of Vikings, forests and Hobbits in some areas of Rome and Milan. It may be laughable but such forms of irrationalism do strike some echoes amongst middle-class youth and even a few sections of the long-term unemployed. For the disillusionment in the Italian political sacrifice is such that ideologies glorifying the past, heroism, personal sacrifice and death can flourish not because they offer any perspective for hope for changing the system, but because they seem to offer an ‘honourable’ way of existence in a rotten and bankrupt society. Further, the cult of violence that the fascists carry does have a social base as levels of casual street crime and brutalisation of everyday life increase under the impact of mass unemployment and the ending of the hopes in any force, whether of the left or the right, to make significant improvements in the Italian state or society.

The outbreak of these new forms of fascist terrorism have been exploited not by the left but paradoxically by the traditional fascist forces around the MSI. Ably manipulating the revulsion and emotion whipped up by the Bologna bombing they have begun to collect signatures for a referendum calling for the death penalty for terrorists whether of the left or right. They have had a real success, not merely where they have been traditionally strong but also in cities like Bologna and Genoa where the left has traditionally enjoyed massive support.

The left, in the main, has been paralysed by this offensive. The Communist Party, particularly, has given only the weakest of responses to the fascist revival, remaining either passive in the face of the MSI’s campaign or calling for increased state repression against terrorists. As to the remnants of the post-1968 left, the only remaining national organisation – Democrazia Proletaria – has organised some demonstrations against the MSI’s campaign but, in the main, they have been small and isolated, and certainly unable to make more than a marginal impact on the fascists. It all makes a very sorry comparison to the anti-fascism of the left six or seven years ago when massive demonstrations, exposures of leading fascists and the use of physical force temporarily discredited and demoralised the fascists.

The weakness of the left in dealing with the fascists is only one aspect of a much more general crisis within their politics. The left, whether in the CP, in the groups or in no organisation lack any coherent strategy, direction or even self-confidence to take up the tasks confronting them. It is in this context, that the fascist terror tactics should be located. However bloody, they are not the prelude to a coup or even a rapid and qualitative increase in the strength of the right. What they do reveal however is all the weaknesses of the left in taking up the political problems confronting them and its inability to project a system of ideals capable of winning support from the social milieu that provides the fascists with their support.

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