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Sound as a Pound

12226283_10206590828304314_1627461731_n [1]2,652 words

Italian translation here [2]

One of the most interesting and original political movements to arise in Italy in recent years is CasaPound Italia (CPI). Depending on which point you view them from in the old political spectrum, the group either repackages Right-wing extremism for a younger generation or simply beats the hard Left at its own “revolutionary” game but in pursuit of traditionalist mainstream objectives like securing family, community, and nation against the forces of unrestricted globalism.

The movement’s charismatic leader Gianluca Iannone rejects the existing political spectrum and sees CPI as part of the Third Position rejection of old concepts of Left and Right in favour of a more organically defined politics. The movement’s policies and methods are hard to pin down, as they pick n’ mix from both the Left and Right.

This is most evident in the movement’s origins. With members drawn from various Neo-Fascist and Right-wing groupings, the party grew out of an act of nationalist squatting in Rome’s Esquilino neighborhood in 2003, in which a number of families took over a government-owned building in what is Rome’s Chinatown to protest against high rents for native Italians. Squatting, of course, is exactly the sort of tactic one would associate with Leftists or anarchists, although the nationalist aspect clearly has a Right-wing connotation.

The group also goes out of its way to campaign for Burma’s Karen people. At times, it might even seem as if Casa Pound is engaged in a massive experiment in cognitive dissonance.

I contacted the movement’s leader Gianluca Iannone by email to find out more. Although particularly busy at the time with international conferences in both Switzerland and Northern Europe, he took the time to answer some of my questions. First I wanted to know about his background and how he became involved in politics.

“I was born in August 1973 and started political activism at 14 in the Fronte della Gioventù in Acca Larenzia, one of the downtown neighborhoods in Rome,” he explained. “Since then I have never stopped to be part of this world. I have been a journalist since 1999, worked for TV and radio stations, and I have also written for national newspapers on international conflicts, literature, cinema, and music.”

Gianlucca Iannone [3]

Gianluca Iannone

The Fronte della Gioventù was the youth wing of the Movimento Sociale Italiano, the Italian Social Movement, a post-war political party that was active from 1946 to 1995. Founded by “Social Fascists,” that is fascists who had Leftist leanings, it continued Mussolini’s political legacy but also had strong anti-capitalist elements. For example, it championed land redistribution and called for workers to share in the profits of production, clearly showing Third Position tendencies right from the start. Indeed, Iannone is keener to distance himself from the idea of the CPI being Right-wing than from it being fascist.

“Linking Casa Pound to the Right wing is a bit restrictive,” he commented. “The CPI is a political movement that is organized as an association for social promotion. It starts from the Right and goes through the entire political panorama. Right or Left are two old visions of politics, we need to give birth to a new synthesis.”

The movement, which Iannone says has 4,000 members and significant support among students, makes itself felt by what can best be described as a holistic approach to politics that seeks to build communities and interact with many different aspects of people’s lives. In addition to bread-and-butter issues like housing, the CPI organizes patriotic marches, solidarity campaigns, and various cultural activities to create a CPI lifestyle that creates a fully rounded sense of belonging and engagement.

“The CPI works on everything that concerns the life of our nation: from sport to solidarity, culture, and of course politics,” Iannone added. “For sports, we have soccer teams and an academy. We do hockey, rugby, skydiving, boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and scuba diving. We also have hiking, caving, and climbing groups. For solidarity, we have first aid teams. We do fundraising activities for the Karen people, and we provide help to orphans and single-mums. A phone line called Dillo to CasaPound (tell it to CasaPound), which is active 24/7 to give free advice on legal and tax issues. On the cultural front, we host authors and organize book presentations; we have an artists’ club, a theater school, free guitar, bass guitar, and drum lessons. We have also created an artistic trend called Turbodinamismo. We have a publishing company, dozens of bookshops and websites.”

12218250_10206590828744325_919184222_o [4]Just campaigning on political issues and appealing through the ballot box every once in a while is not enough. A key point for the CPI is to have a constant visible presence and strong image in the neighborhoods that it regards as its own. This street profile often means using posters and street art to visually “claim” areas they believe are theirs. This evokes comparisons not only with the poster politics usually associated with Left-wing agitators but also with the manner in which street gangs use graffiti to “tag” their “hoods” and warn other gangs off. Such an approach clearly marks a major difference with the political culture in the UK.

“The CPI works on dozens of projects and with various methods from conferences to demonstrations, distribution of information, and posters,” Iannone explained. “The important thing is to generate counter information and to occupy the territory. It is fundamental to create a web of supporters other than by focusing on elections. For elections, you are in competition with heavily financed groups, and with only one or two persons elected, you can’t change anything. Politics for us is a community. It is a challenge. It is an affirmation. For us, politics is to try to be better every day. That is why we say that if we don’t see you, it is because you are not there. That is why we are in the streets, on computers, in bookshops, in schools, in universities, in gymnasiums, at the top of mountains or in the newsstands. That is why we are in the culture, social work and sport. That is a constant work.”

To back up such a widely-targeted approach the movement has to have not only a hard-working and well-organized core of activists but it also has to maintain street credibility or “political mojo” in the face of an opposition always prepared to use extreme methods. Through its marches, rock concerts, street art, and sports clubs, CPI manages to cultivate an image of being tough enough for any eventuality. In short, they are ready to fight as they did in October 2008, in the episode know as “the Piazza Navona clashes.”

During a mass student demonstration against education cuts, members of CasaPound’s student organization Blocco Studentesco, in a well-drilled move, placed themselves at the head of the massive student demo and unfurled a banner with a Third Position slogan “neither red nor black, only free thought” designed to sound conciliatory. In the inevitable scuffle that ensued, as Leftist and Antifa students reacted, the Blocco Studentesco showed discipline, bravery, and organization in defending themselves using batons and flagpoles.

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While the violence may have obscured the original point of the larger demonstration, Blocco Studentesco achieved their objectives. By getting the Leftists to initiate the violence and then by successfully defending themselves they were able to pass themselves off to a considerable extent as victims of barbaric Leftist aggression in the media narrative. More importantly, given their need to maintain “street mojo,” they were able to appear as courageous street warriors, an important symbolic victory.

Such an event and the way it was treated makes a marked contrast with the British experience, where the nationalist street politics of the 1970s did nothing but bring mass opprobrium down on the groups involved. Perhaps an important difference is that CPI does its street politics with greater style and panache and with a deeper understanding of how such visual semantics work within their society.

12212382_10206590828824327_238235070_n [6]Another point is that the Italian media is dominated by Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset corporation, which includes three national television channels with around 50% of all TV coverage and Publitalia, the leading Italian advertising and publicity agency. Berlusconi also owns Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, the largest Italian publishing house with publications like the popular news magazine Panorama, while his brother, Paolo Berlusconi, owns and runs the center-Right Il Giornale. This means the media is markedly less sympathetic to a Left-wing agenda, effectively providing CPI with a leveller playing field than equivalent movements elsewhere.

Since the mid-1990s, there has been a major realignment of Italian politics to the Right, brought about by the collapse of the Soviet Union, which saw the demise of the once significant Italian Communist Party, and the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) corruption scandals that led to the collapse of the Christian Democrats and the Italian Socialist Party.

In place of these old political parties, a new political establishment has arisen dominated by groups like Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà (The People of Freedom Party) and the Lega Nord (The Northern League) that are decidedly more Right wing than their predecessors. This means that in cases like the Piazza Navona clashes, the tactics used by the CPI will not be overly condemned as they would be in a more liberal or Leftist political culture like that of the UK.

Another example similar to that of Piazza Navona is the ethnic riots that took place in Rosarno in Calabria in the toe of Italy in 2010. Growing ethnic tension between local residents and the largely African immigrant workforce, brought in to work as fruit pickers, led to serious riots and the ultimate removal of all Blacks from the area.

QUIRINALE:FDI DAVANTI MONTECITORIO OFFRE PANE E MORTADELLA [7]

The CPI’s response to this riots was to immediately send a delegation to show solidarity with the local Italian residents who had been accused of racism by the foreign press. While this was clearly out of the Right-wing playbook, in true Third Position style they also threw in an ostensibly Left-wing card by calling for state intervention to punish the exploiters of the cheap foreign labor force.

In the UK, a group like the BNP would avoid an area of ethnic rioting like the plague or face being stigmatized by the media as “knuckle-dragging” fomenters of racism destroying pre-existing racial harmony.

While the tactics of the CPI show flair and imagination and avoid simple categorization, their policies also steer clear of the obvious. In the Italian political system, where the Lega Nord and Il Popolo della Libertà are more than happy to make pronouncements attacking immigration and multiculturalism, the CPI does not need to focus solely on racial issues. Accordingly, it is able to soften its image by focusing on more socially oriented policies.

Manifestazione Casapound e Blocco Studentesco [8]

“Politically we propose various laws like the Mutuo sociale (social mortgage), Tempo di essere Madri (Time to be a Mother), or against water privatization, and so many more,” Iannone explained. “Speaking about the CPI is never easy because all these things are CasaPound. All of these represent our challenges and projects for now and the millennium.”

The “Time to be a Mother” policy aims to give working mothers more time off work without financially penalizing them. If implemented it would decrease the normal working day for women who have children aged six or under from eight to six hours per day while giving them the same salary, with 15% being paid by the state.

The social mortgage policy seeks to create conditions in which people can buy homes without paying interest, treating this as essentially distinct from other kinds of property issues. The policy would see the creation of regional agencies to build homes and neighborhoods on a human scale with public money, which would then be sold at cost price to families through an installment loan without interest. Repayments would not exceed one fifth of the family’s income and would be guaranteed against unemployment.

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Because it seeks to aid the poor and safeguard a basic necessity like accommodation, this policy gains wide sympathy and packs a strong moral punch of the kind that Left-wing policies of aimed at combating “social injustice” once did. Such a potent moral dimension not only creates strong motivation among the activists but also a degree of licence in what can be done to promote the policy. This means assertive, high profile campaigning. Accordingly, CPI has not pulled its punches.

Demonstrations on behalf of the social mortgage have included dramatic touches like hanging mannequins to represent the economic strangulation of Italian families by mortgages, and an invasion of the Italian Big Brother set because, as their statement humorously puts it, the free accommodation enjoyed by the housemates insults all Italians who are victims of the housing crisis.

PoundandCats [10]While the Left-wing will always try to characterize any radical Right-wing movement or even Third Position force as essentially genocidal fanatics in the making, this is much harder to do in the case of Casa Pound despite their street tough image. Partly this is due to the differences in the Italian media culture but also because the movement’s identity, as suggested by its name, is based not so much on anti-immigrant feeling but on the core idea that usury is the chief evil. This is also the reason for the movement’s name, which derives from the American poet Ezra Pound, who frequently railed against usury and was a sympathizer of Italian fascism.

“Ezra Pound was a poet, an economist and an artist,” Iannone explained regarding the inspiration that Pound gives them, once again revealing CasaPound’s deft mixing of Right-wing and Left-wing messages. “He was a revolutionary and a fascist. Ezra Pound had to suffer for his ideas, he was sent to what was effectively a jail for ten years to make him stop speaking. We see in Ezra Pound a free man that paid for his ideas; he is a symbol of the ‘democratic views’ of the winners.”

CPI’s anti-usury stance is so strong that one wonders how they would ever manage a complex economy if they succeeded in gaining total power. But perhaps that is the point: seeing themselves as political outsiders allows them to give full rein to populist utopian notions more as an article of faith rather than worrying about the practical implications.

Casa Pound [11]“Usury is the worst thing. It is the head of the octopus,” Iannone expounded. “It is that which has initiated the wars that are starting around the Mediterranean Sea, which generates illegal immigration and destruction. It is that which creates unemployment and debts. It is it that which threatens the future of our children, which makes them weak and ready for the massacre.”

In the Anglo countries such statements against usury evoke images of the archetypal “grasping Jew” of anti-Semite lore, an impression that is reinforced by the association with Pound, a man known for making anti-Semitic broadcasts from Italy during the war. Isn’t Iannone worried that some might see the identification with Pound as code for anti-Semitism?

“To associate Ezra Pound and anti-Semitism is an absolute twist,” he responded. “It is the same for CasaPound. It has no sense. It is true that we are against Israeli politics towards the Palestinians, and against the bombing of civilians and the embargo on international help. To say so does not mean we are anti-Semitic. It means analyzing facts.”

In the Italian political eco-system, CasaPound has found the space to grow and feed of the ideological remnants of the past, both from Left and Right. They have also found considerable space to operate by looking beyond the ballot box to the social and cultural dimension. With such a sophisticated and holistic approach to politics, I asked him what he makes of Britain’s own latest manifestation of street politics, the anti-Islamic English Defence League.

“I think that the EDL is going down the route of the clash of civilizations,” he replied. “For me and CasaPound, this provokes a kind of disgust. If the British Right is reduced to this, then let’s speak about soccer, it will be better.”