The relationship between Italians and fascism has always been ambivalent in the aftermath of World War II. This is mainly because Italians have never come to terms with its fascist past.
As a result, neo-fascist groups are flourishing today amid increasing social and political hatred, and receiving considerable media coverage. This includes groups such as CasaPound (named after the fascist poet Ezra Pound) and Forza Nuova (New Force).
However, the Italian government seems unable (and maybe unwilling) to stop them, despite the Italian Constitution unequivocally stating: “It shall be forbidden to reorganise, under any form whatsoever, the dissolved Fascist party.”
Moreover, this provision is reinforced by several other national laws, including the “Scelba law” (1952), the “Mancino law” (1993) and the “Fiano law” (2017). These prohibit promoting or supporting fascism, racial and religious discrimination, and the online distribution of neo-fascist material.
In such a context, taking clear action against fascism should not be a problem, since the law is extremely clear. Instead, the government is way too indulgent with explicitly neo-fascist and unconstitutional groups. But despite the law, CasaPound and Forza Nuova are being allowed to contest elections, such as the March 4 general elections.
This legitimisation of fascism is unprecedented in Italy, even though fascist-inspired groups have always existed. Indeed, in the 1970s the Italian government was able (even if maybe too hesitantly) to disband fascist armed groups such as Ordine Nuovo (New Order) and Avanguardia Nazionale (National Vanguard).
On the contrary, today’s neo-fascist groups are often protected by the police. Combined with this is a political agenda seeking to delegitimise socialism and communism by equating them to fascism.
In this sense, neo-fascist groups are useful to the neoliberal narrative. Fascism and communism are presented as “two opposite political extremisms”, or “two sides of the same coin”. Therefore, it is said, “both fascism and communism will end up in a form of totalitarianism”.
This narrative, moreover, is profitable both for neoliberals and fascists, as the former can use it to present themselves as the only genuine democratic force on the political sceneThe latter can decriminalise their ideology and present an altered version of history.
The effects of this perverted narrative are plainly evident. Anti-fascist movements, which legitimately protest against neo-fascist gatherings and electoral speeches, are regularly accused of being anti-democratic and preventing people from expressing their ideas.
However, we are not facing “two opposite political extremisms”. Rather, there is a legitimate demand based on a constitutional right on one side. On the other, is an unconstitutional, criminal and anti-democratic ideology.
Needless to say, the right-wing propaganda emphasises the prejudice according to which the neo-fascists should be granted the right to express their political opinions. Anti-fascists (and especially socialists and communists) are called “the “new fascists”, because they don’t grant freedom of thought and speech to opponents.
The main supporters of this prejudice are both Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) and the Lega Nord (Northern League). Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi claimed that “fascism is dead and buried, and the real danger for democracy is the new anti-fascism”.
Even the Five-Star Movement refuses to accept anti-fascism as a valid political idea, as it believes “both fascism and communism belong to the past”, so anti-fascism is also to be overcome.
On top of that, even the democrats and the moderates are ambiguous. They prefer to turn a blind eye rather than intervene in accordance with the Constitution.
Both Democratic Party (PD) Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and PD secretary Matteo Renzi have declared that fascism is not a legitimate political position. However, in recent years no one in the government has done anything concrete to stop the rise of neo-fascist groups.
In fact, they have helped legitimise them. Interior minister Marco Minniti has often ordered the police to break up anti-fascist demonstrations and to safeguard neo-fascist rallies.
The situation demands we urgently take a firm stand against neo-fascism, rejecting it as any form of legitimate political position. This applies not only to Italy, but to a great part of Europe and the United States as well.
Just think of Germany. Last year, the Constitutional Court refused to ban the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany. Another Nazi-inspired party, Alternative for Germany, entered parliament with more than 12% of the votes in last year’s elections.
Other examples are Spain, where neo-fascist and nationalist groups have risen up against pro-independence Catalans, and France, where the neo-fascist sentiment is strongly represented in Marine Le Pen’s National Front.
The European Union is also now supporting (openly or tacitly) fascist governments in Ukraine, Hungary and Turkey. Austria, Poland and Czech Republic should be added to the list of places where neo-fascism is growing or already strong enough to take power.
This is not to mention the US, where white supremacists and other reactionaries have carried out several mass shootings and terrorist attacks.
History tells us that fascism and capitalism are cut from the same cloth. Both aim at oppressing workers and poor people for the benefit of rich, white men.
It is no secret that big industries and rich business people supported the rise of fascism in Italy. They funded Mussolini’s Fascist Party, since they considered fascism as the best way to protect their interests and profits.
Indeed, during the fascist regime, rich people became richer and poor people were starving and sent to war. Socialist parliamentarian Giacomo Matteotti was brutally murdered in 1924 by fascists when he discovered evidence proving that Mussolini accepted bribes and illegally sold US company Sinclair Oil exclusive rights to use Italy’s oil reserves.
It is hard to believe claims that neo-fascist movements will fight corruption or restore labour rights (as they say they will), since their political view is based on the most corrupt and repressive regimes in Italy’s history.
There still is huge anti-fascist sentiment in Italy, giving hope for the future. The new left-wing movement Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) is the best example; but there are also other progressive parties, such as Sinistra Italiana (Italian Left), the Partisans Association, unions, social centres and students’ associations that are keeping anti-fascism alive.
The only viable solution to combat fascism in Italy is to immediately disband neo-fascist groups and seize their assets, which should be re-used for social purposes.
Neo-fascist forces still aim to oppress people, suppress civil and labour rights and make new wars. An effective solution to stop neo-fascism, not only in Italy but across the West, could be to aim for an anti-fascist international front. Italy could play a leading role, in accordance with its anti-fascist constitutional values.
Neoliberals in the West are clearly afraid of the possibility of a new rise of socialism. That’s why they keep telling us that fascism and communism both end up in totalitarian regimes. It is also why the Western neoliberal elite helps keep alive the threat of fascism — to legitimise itself and its distorted narrative.
We must reject this narrative and acknowledge that socialism offers the most genuine and radical possible form of democracy — in political, social and economic spheres.
As British Labour’s socialist leader, and veteran anti-fascist, Jeremy Corbyn said: “If you do what you believe in, you’re strong. It’s when you don’t do what you believe in that you’re weak. And we are strong”.