2.1. The MSI as openly fascist party
2.2. The MSI’s ideological development
2.3. The surge of the Lega Nord – unrelated to fascism?
3.1. Initial success, remaining electoral potential
3.2. Electoral potential gone with prohibition of SDR?
3.3. East vs. West – consequence of different de-nazification?
Italy and Germany have both experienced fascist/nazi rule. Is it possible to link this historical fact to the development of the post-war extreme right in these two countries?
This paper wants to argue that initially fascism and national socialism still greatly influenced the development of the post-war extreme right (ER). However, this degree of influence gradually declined and nowadays these ideologies cannot be said to exert much influence on the political landscape anymore. Therefore, this essay will proceed by firstly looking at the case of Italy and especially the Movimento Socialist Italiano’s (MSI) ideological development over the years. Secondly, the German political landscape after the Second World War (WWII) will be examined before proceeding with a comparison. This essay will argue that the development of the ER in their relation to the interwar ideologies was similar to a certain extent.
2.1. The MSI as openly fascist party
Italy finds itself in a position different than Germany since it has experienced a civil war that led to the fascist regime’s end and to the birth of the Italian Republic. While the public division about the country’s ideology probably persisted to a similar degree in Germany, the intervention of the Allied Forces prevented that this public division was fought openly. Thus, the civil war led to what Ignazi names a “very deep and emotionally loaded divide between the fascist and antifascist camps” (Ignazi, 2003:35). Therefore, fascism’s demise as governing ideology did not cause it to disappear as ideological alternative for parts of the Italian population. Consequently, fascism was also institutionalized in post-war Italy in the name of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), that never attempted to hide its ideological foundations. This fact becomes apparent by looking at the leading personalities of the party that were to a great extent active in the Italian Social Republic, as for instance the first general secretary Giorgio Almirante who served as official in the German puppet state (Cheles, Ferguson, and Vaughan, 1992:43). Furthermore, as part of Mussolini’s legacy, the party built much of the party organization in the original fascist style and was maintaining its tradition of holding demonstration marches accompanied by pictures of the former leader (Spiegel, 13/12/1950). Scholars have also found resemblance to fascist ideas in the MSI’s political programme, for instance Ignazi, who claims that although “the MSI’s first ’10 points programme’ somewhat veiled its ideological-political mould the symbolic and cultural references were unquestionably linked to fascism” (Ignazi, 2003:36) Furthermore, he describes that “the party depicted itself as a ‘veterans fraternity’ which gather together the ‘losers’ of the civil war” (Ignazi, 2003:36). Thus, in the case of the MSI a continuation of the organized fascist ideology, being maintained by the same cadres with a political agenda only marginally different from that of pre-war fascists is visible. However, importantly the Italian fascists realised from the beginning that there is no alternative than engaging in the restored democratic system and thus, “the MSI decided to accept electoral competition” (Ignazi, 1996:694). This led to an ideological conflict within the party. Participating in elections and following the democratic norms and procedures severely damaged the party’s legitimacy since its overall goal was the abolition of these democratic principles. Despite consisting of different fractions the party resisted any “temptation of militia-style organization” (Ignazi, 2003:36) and followed the moderate wing’s stance of following the mass-party model and pursuing a “fit-in” (Ignazi, 2003:36) approach and thus, followed the rules of the democratic system.
Therefore, the author wants to point out, that the ER’s development in Italy in the immediate aftermath of the World War II was shaped by fascism. The fascist ideology did not disappear, neither among the cadres that implemented fascism in Italy nor among the general public as the MSI’s elections results suggest. However, in Italy, fascism was by no means a political force that had a great electoral potential due to the grave divisions within Italian society. Realising this, the leadership set out the cornerstones for the MSI’s further development in the late 1940s by deciding to follow an approach of integrating into the Italian political system. Following this approach had serious ideological implications that will be discussed in the proceeding part.
2.2. The MSI’s ideological development
Despite the fact that a considerable faction of the party emphasising the party’s anti-system profile, the new leadership under De Marsanich chose a different approach. Thus, the party’s outlook “shifted from the ‘opposition of principle’ to basically support for the ruling Democrazia Christiania” (Ignazi, 2003:37) in the 1950s. During that period the anti-communist character of the party took the leading role and support for the Christian Democrats was seen as means to overcome communist threats. This ideological position has to be seen with the historical background in which communism is a sizeable force all over Europe. Thus, the author does not necessarily see a loss of the fascist ideology but rather a re-prioritising of the ideological components.
The strategy of fitting into the democratic system certainly helped the MSI in a short-term perspective since it gained electoral wins and was finally legitimized in 1960 when it backed a Christian Democratic minority government. However, as internal debates translated into clashes with anti-fascist groups causing the government’s resignation the MSI saw itself on decline. This ultimately led to the MSI’s marginalization and, as Ignazi puts it, it “fostered the development of new extreme right groups which aimed at contrasting the ‘subtle and undermining communist strategy of world domination’ with a novel relationship involving the Army” (Ignazi, 2003:38). In other words, the pursued moderate stance of the MSI was heavily criticized in other extreme right groups and a loss of ideological attractiveness was perceived. These other groups were not successful, however, the point here is that the MSI’s ideological development had some consequences for the Italian party political landscape.
The MSI’s ideological renovation further progressed in the early 1970s. After several electoral defeats the returned leader Almirante saw the need for organizational and ideological changes. While following the fascist ideal of more centralized decision-making process within the party, the ideological admiration of fascism was somewhat relaxed. Almirante certainly appealed to the traditional fascist values represented within the MSI, however, he continued the policy of fitting into the system by opening up the MSI to a broader political spectrum. The party changed its name into MSI – Destra Nazionale and aimed at incorporating more moderate political forces too. Thus, by becoming an attractive party for members of the Monarchist party and for factions of the DC and the Liberal Party, one can say that the hard-line fascist ideology was softened to some extent. Even though, according to Ignazi, “the ideological renewal was more on the external image rather than on the principles” (Ignazi, 1996:697), this is still proving the point of this paper, namely that fascism’s importance as political guiding force declined throughout the post-war decades in Italy. Although a full ideological renovation within the party did not occur by that time, the change of the external outlook of the party can be perceived as sign that fascism lost its power as ideological force in Italian politics and thus, the party saw a need in changing the party’s image.
A further weakening of the fascist elements of the party ideology occurred in the background of the highly politicized student movements in the late 1970s in Italian society. The students that joined the MSI in unforeseenly high numbers were mobilized by an anti-system feeling. The new students, however, did not prioritise a continuation of the street confrontation with communists. In contrast, they saw “the need to take a part in Italian society” (Ignazi, 1996:698). Thus, the importance of the fascist element of strong anti-communism was highly questioned, perhaps not so much in ideological terms, more so, however, in terms of strategy. The violent confrontations with communists that were continued even after the MSI’s broadening up highly isolated the party since it was still largely associated with street violence and terrorist groups. The anti-communist stance was therefore softened to some extent and transformed into an anti-party regime attitude, holding that “all parties, Christian Democracy included, were responsible for Italy’s agony.” (Ignazi, 1996:698). Most importantly, this development led to an end in violent clashes between communists and members of the MSI that now renounced violence as part of their political strategy. This marks another step in fascism’s decline in importance since violence has often been portrayed as integral part of fascist ideology and fascist political strategy (see for example Douglas 1984). While other fascist groups held on to street clashes, the MSI abandoned them and thus, as Ignazi points out, “for the first time the MSI unambiguously placed itself against the radical fringes of the extreme right which remained completely isolated” (Ignazi, 1996:669). Simultaneously, as the MSI moves away from traditional fascism, the ideology becomes relegated into the peripheries of the political spectrum.
Importantly, also society’s perception of fascism in Italy changed. According to Ignazi, “in the early 1980s, the Fascist era ceased to be dismissed as an all-negative period. On the basis of a new vogue of studies promoted by Renzo de Felice, Fascism was interpreted as one of several periods in Italian history” (Ignazi, 1996:699). This societal climate definitely helped in legitimating the MSI since fascism was from then on evaluated in a more objective and neutral way, transforming the party into one ‘normal’ political party amongst many equals.
The transformation of the MSI into the Alleanza Nazionale (AN) also brought about an ideological change. Despite the fact that the AN cadres retained their traditional fascist views to an important extent (see Ignazi, 1996), the party transformed into a more mainstream conservative party. This fact can then more likely be associated with the actions of the party’s leader, Gianfranco Fini, who “sought to cut all links finally with the Fascist past” (Pollard, 1998:139). The establishment of the new AN also led the more extreme factions of the former MSI to defect and form a new party following the tradition of (neo-)fascism, namely The Tricolour Flame. With participations in government the AN gained further credibility and legitimacy within the Italian political system, and simultaneously further de-radicalized.
2.3. The surge of the Lega Nord – unrelated to fascism?
Due to the competition over a similar electoral potential the AN was increasingly challenged by the Lega Nord (LN) that experienced its surge from the early 1990s onwards. This party has, however, not inherited any fascist ideology and should rather be classified as a ‘new’ extreme right populist party. On the contrary, the LN’s leader Umberto Bossi has warned about “the resurrection of the fascist mummy covered by the veil of the National Alliance” (Drozdiak, 1994).
The more radical faction of the MSI that did not agree with Fini’s course of transforming the party into a more mainstream conservative party set up their own continuation of a neo-fascist party, the Tricolour Flame. However, this party has gained less than one per cent in electoral support in recent elections and can thus be neglected here.
Therefore, one can argue that fascism has had a long history of influence even in post-war Italy. While first being represented by the MSI, the party, while somewhat softening its ideological stances, held up to its fascist traditions until the 1990s. With Fini’s change of direction however, the party turned away from any fascist links and established itself as mainstream conservative party. Consequently, also fascism lost its institutionalised form. While the LN cannot be classified as fascist party, the successor of the MSI as neo-fascist party, the Tricolour Flame, has too little political influence to regard it as meaningful advocate of fascism nowadays.
- Quote paper
- Felix Wiebrecht (Author), 2015, Fascism's and national socialism's influence on the development of the post-war extreme right in Germany and Italy, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/319112