Translated by Adam D. Smith
“With usura hath no man a house of good stone,” wrote Ezra Pound in Canto XLV. “Usura” is symbolic of the culture destroying, hostile, and inhumane reign of interest, capital, and the banks. Pound also said: “A man can inhabit one house, also another, but a third is capital with which he wants to earn money.”
“Contro ogni Usura,” “against all forms of usury,” is hand painted in large letters on the banner that was unfurled on the façade of a vacant six-story house in Via Napoleone III, No. 8 in the center of Rome. Next to a half dozen Tricolore flags was a flag with a stylized tortoise on a black background. Another banner declared the building baptized “Casa Pound.” The house was occupied by a group of young men in a blitz maneuver. Shortly afterwards, in the city quarter, a flyer with the following declaration was distributed: “We have occupied a building that stood vacant for years. We have given the house to twenty families. We are Italians. We are not social outcasts. We are workers, students, mothers, and fathers.”
Social pathos, anti-capitalist rhetoric, national symbolism – the occupiers come out of Rome’s militant radical Right scene, and make no secret of their convictions: they are “neither Left nor Right,” but simply “Fascista.” (A variation is the ironic amalgam “Estremocentroalto” – “extreme high center.”.) The exposed heads of Casa Pound belong to mentor and co-founder Gabriele Adinolfi, who in the 1970s was an active member of the group Terza Posizione which was closely linked to the “black terror,” and man of action Gianluca Iannone, born in 1973, a bearded tattooed giant who cultivates an image of a rough biker and additionally holds cult status as head of the hard-core band Zetazeroalfa. Casa Pound’s network also includes the bookstore “Testa di Ferro” (Head of Iron), “Cutty Sark,” the “most hated pub in Italy,” and “Area 19,” an abandoned train station concourse in Monte Mario behind the Foro Italico Olympic complex built under Mussolini.
Within the ambit of Casa Poundism a political style has developed which has brought a fresh wind into the extreme Right. This success owes itself not in the least to adept self-marketing. The memorable logo of Casa Pound, a tortoise, has become a brand mark just as notorious as the Celtic cross or the fasces. For a dedicated fascist movement the choice of a peaceful, defensive and torpid animal is at first surprising. However, the symbolism exhibits a poetic soundness. The tortoise carries her house on her back, she cannot be pulled out, and at the same time she is mobile and strong. A second look reveals that the symbol has a concealed warrior connotation: it plays on the ancient Roman military formation “Testudo” (tortoise), in which the closely aligned shields transformed the troop into a human tank: the precise octagon of the stylised tank and the inwardly directed arrows point to an intellectual organising principle and spiritual concentration. Consequently, those in charge of Casa Pound, despite their anarchic gestures, sharply differentiate themselves from the style of Left-wing occupied houses: order, cleanliness, and aesthetics play just as an important role as the strict ban on weapons, drugs, and prostitution.
In the meantime, there are corresponding Casas, among others, in Milan, Bologna and Naples, all cities where the Black Shirts sometimes meet violent resistance. The anger of the Left probably arises from the indignation that the Right are now fishing in their waters. This includes active solidarity with the socially underprivileged and the expression of sympathy for oppressed peoples such as the Tibetans, as well as the fight against privatization of education and health care and radical demands for government-guaranteed housing rights for all Italian families. In April 2009, after the large earthquake in the Abruzzo region, volunteer assistance was rallied under the slogan “Let’s rebuild Italy.” In line with this, political recruitment takes a back seat: the twenty resident families of Casa Pound indeed come, for the most part, from the environment of the Right, but there exists, according to the organizers, no required profession of ideological commitment.
Women are also specifically addressed, for instance the “Time to be a Mother” initiative, which advocates for the rights of single mothers. Increasing mass immigration to Italy since the 1990s is, in the affinitive publications, primarily seen under the aspect of a “critique of globalization”: capitalism needs cheap labor and tries to conceal this exploitative strategy with multicultural rhetoric. Coloured activists also occasionally appear among the militants, the in-house legends include the story of a pizzeria, owned by an Egyptian, which was trashed by Antifa members who had their eye on Gianluca Iannone — who, as a consequence, supported the renovation of the restaurant through a benefit concert.
So, in the middle of the “multicultural” Esquilino district, in an almost exclusively Chinese inhabited street, tolerated by the police and the city council, an institution arose, which has had a practical as well as a symbolic impact. It stands for a philosophy of localization as well as for a social utopia and functions as a centre for political and cultural activities. Monthly lectures on a wide array of topics are held, for which regular guests are obtained through intelligent networking, people who are as far away from the scene as possible, such as Nicolai Lilin, author of the bestselling Siberian Education. A representative of the Left even came to a Che Guevara theme night, another time Valerio Morucci, former member of the Red Brigade and one of Aldo Moros’ kidnappers. They strive to do justice to the slogan, “Casa Pound – Where the discussion is free” without giving up the pronounced self-positioning. So the hallways and the round-the-clock occupied offices are decorated with slogans such as “Begin to believe! Start to fight!” and with paintings in the military style of the Mussolini era.
While the social revolutionary program can be seen to be in line with the early and late forms of Fascism (the “Social Republic” of Salò), the adoption of Left-wing procedures such as the self-authorized establishment of “centri sociali” (social centres) is a relatively recent phenomenon. Already in December 1990 members of “Fronte della Gioventù” occupied a house in the Roman district of Monteverde; in 1998 the “PortAperta” in San Giovanni was opened. When in July 2002, once again in Rome, “Casa Montag” was proclaimed, an unheard voice announced itself. “Montag,” the hero from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, is a “fireman” in a future city, where the possession and reading of any kind of book has been forbidden. The “fire department” is under duty to destroy all books, but Montag begins to secretly collect and read the banned goods, until he himself turns into a rebel. While totalitarian societies are usually covered with the term “fascism,” the “non-conforming” militants turn the tables: the rebels against the thought police, individual freedom is now on their side. From this time on, the cipher “451” has consistently appeared in Fascist demonstrations – occasionally, increasing the paradox even more, upon a white circle on a red background, visually bringing to mind the flag of the NSDAP.
Casa Montag follows Casa Pound in that their given names reveal a similar sophisticated base structure. The entrance hall of the house is designed as a kind of pop-art hall of fame, where the names of all those valued as inspiration are painted on the wall in colourful letters. The company of cited minds forms an astonishing array. Alongside obligatory icons of European fascism such as D’Annunzio, Evola, Codreanu, Mosley, and Degrelle you will find a wild jumble of names like Saint-Exupéry, Jünger, Majakowskij, Kerouac, Bukowski, Stirner, Tolkien, Orwell, or Leonidas. Ian Stuart, head of Skrewdriver, is represented just as much as Hölderlin, the Indian chief Geronimo, and the comic characters Corto Maltese and Captain Harlock. With the exception of Walter Darré you won’t find any National Socialists. However, Ernst Jünger enjoys a high status amongst the scene: In Autumn 2009, distributed posters that bid farewell to a deceased comrade with a Jünger quote were to be seen in Rome right across the Esquilino district and neighbouring areas all the way to the Colosseum.
The gallery of heroes continues in the stairwell, which is exclusively dedicated to distinguished women: visual artists such as Camille Claudel and Tamara de Lempicka, poets such as Ada Negri and Sibilla Aleramo, film diva Luisa Ferida (who was murdered by communist partisans), Leni Riefenstahl, as well as sportswomen and female pilots. You will also find a similar eclectic selection amongst the products of Testa di Ferro. There T-shirts and badges are offered for sale whose motifs range from Yukio Mishima to football legend George Best. And films such as Fight Club, 300, Clockwork Orange, and Pulp Fiction consistently come up as central references.
In the headquarters, the fostering of icons culminates in an annotated collection of rare photos from the life of Ezra Pound. The American avant-gardist belongs to the group of great minds who were drawn to Fascism. Pound had settled in 1924 in Rapallo and, during the Second World War, gave anti-Semitic tinged propaganda speeches against the Allies, who he regarded as stooges of “loan capital.” After the war he was charged with high treason and subjected to degrading treatment, culminating in a 12-year-long detention in a psychiatric hospital.
However, for the majority of scene adherents it probably suffices to know that Pound was “the poet against usury” and an admirer of Mussolini. The complicated esotericism of his Cantos is notorious even among literary-minded readers, and the same applies to Julius Evola, who has been made into a cult figure within the scene. The more decisive ideological sources might instead be the lyrics from Zetazeroalfa and other “Musica Alternativa” bands. The audience of the several day long festival celebrating 5 years of Casa Pound in Area 19 in June 2009 was dominated by the approximately 80 percent proletarian skinhead and hooligan types present, who are commonly associated with the extreme Right. Provocative tattoos and shaved heads are a must, as well as a very select array of T-shirt designs. This seems to be representative for the scene as a whole, even if a considerable proportion, via the student organisation Blocco Studentesco, comes from the middle-class. Here is, admittedly, another connection with historical Fascism: an emphasis on the physical, vitalism, male gangs [Männerbünde], the agon, and even violence. As an outlet, for example, the ritual of “Cinghiamattanza” (roughly, “going nuts with a belt”) is used, based loosely on DAF’s “Alle gegen Alle” in which one plunges shirtless into a wild brawl with belt straps (the buckle is prohibited).
Also the popular, to some extent amalgamated with rock romanticism (“liberi, belli, ribelli” – “free, beautiful, rebellious”), Squadristi iconography with its death-heads, black flags, and Decima MAS daggers and roses, underscores the ambiguous “Bad Boy” image, which is especially appealing to young men as well as women, and is a hindrance to them becoming part of the mainstream – because for the Left it is of course easy to categorically portray the scene as a group of thugs. Despite the considerable leeway in comparison to Germany that Rightists and even (the at least officially banned) Fascism in Italy can lay claim to, “Political Correctness” also has the upper hand here. The photographic book OltreNero from anti-fascist journalists Allessandro Cosmelli and Marco Mathieu, which initially resulted from a close collaboration with Gianluca Iannone, rendered the scene in stylish black and white photographs, in a light as much alluring as abysmally repellent and emphasised their sub-cultural character as well as an aura of violence. Iannone saw this representation as distortive and one-sided and, as a result, fell out with the authors.
The question concerning the actual ideology of the Fascism of the Third Millennium is not easy to answer. Despite all the assertions not to be pulling a nostalgic number, the emotional core of the movement is still just as focused on the heroic stories of yesteryear: D’Annunzio’s Fiume, the march on Rome, Futurism, the legend of the Squadristi, the Republic of Salò and the “black heart” of the “lead” ’70s, when in Italy a bloody, secret service-infiltrated war of terror flared up between Left and Right wing extremist groups. It is unclear what concrete form this envisioned “modern” fascism should have, the more so as dialogue with other milieus is actively sought out and “cross fronts” are not excluded. What remains is primarily the rhetoric of the act and the precedence of activism over ideological conformity, as well as the maintenance and creation of icons, and a non-conformist attitude to life.
Telling in this regard is the August 2009 editorial from the in-house magazine Occidentale. One of the most successful Casa Pound coups of the year was the widespread public posting of placards, which exhibited in pop-art style the 1980 deceased Left-wing songwriter Rino Gaetano, bearing only the infamous tortoise logo without any written commentary. In the editorial, the author explained, “Why it is just for Casa Pound to celebrate Rino Gaetano.” One must by no means be Left-wing to admire the free and vital spirit of Gaetano’s songs. In them you can find everything that Casa Pound stands for: “The love of everything that views the world with irony; poetry, provocation, freedom, justice.” One should not focus on the past, “D’Annunzio, Marinetti, Jünger, Evola, even Mussolini” were at the forefront of their times and believed: “No romantic escapism, no doomsday hysteria. Will, deeds, joy, freedom. That is what counts.”
1. It is also possible to translate this as being against all usurers. Mr. Lichtmesz’s original German takes this line.
2. The translator would like to thank Mark Dyal for providing the following summary of this concept:
Estremocentroalto takes its cue from the revolutionary socialist origins of Italian Fascism. As Estremo (extreme), it takes the radical counter-modernism of the true right and the popular sociality of the interwar left, while embracing what is extreme and Italian about both: aggression, passion, and total commitment. It seeks to be Centro (center) so as to be absolutely relevant and central to all aspects of Italian life. Casa Pound, as part of the contemporary social right, embraces politics, philosophy, and art from the perspective of Italian ways of life. Thus, it embraces the piazzas, cuisines, bars, and normalized forms of Italian social interaction, but always from an extreme position. Finally, Casa Pound seeks to be Alto (high) in consistently rejecting the banality of Americanized pop culture, seeking instead to remake the natural seriousness of Italian beauty, life, and creation.
German original: http://www.sezession.de/18102/casa-pound-2.html