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Italy’s leap into the dark: Smells, signals and symptoms of fascism

Gaither Stewart | 05.06.2008 06:33 | Anti-militarism | Anti-racism | Repression | World

Corporatism implies the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism and militarism, in effect a dictatorship of the extreme right. In practice corporatism and fascism are one and the same. As in Cold War years, so in the Berlusconi era, the fear of leftist communists and the desire of many Italians to be a normal nation has led to today’s unconscious toleration of the rise of a nascent form of authoritarian government with many characteristics of fascism.

“The more powerful a state and hence the more political a nation, the less inclined it is to explain the general principle governing social ills and to seek out their causes by looking at the principle of the state. . . ." --Karl Marx, Critical Notes on ‘The King of Prussia and Social Reform’

As a premise to this diary of events, notes and comments covering a period of one month following the whimsical and perverse electoral choice of this country of 60 million people, I remind readers that since the time of Machiavelli, Italy has often been a political guidepost in Europe. Therefore, Italy’s peculiar preference today for an updated form of fascism that once cost them so dearly and, furthermore, is headed by an accused crook is worth a close look.

April 12-13, 2008: Silvio Berlusconi and his People of Freedom Party (PDL) in alliance with the neo-fascist National Alliance (AN) and the autonomist and populist Northern League (Lega Nord) swept general elections this weekend with an 11-point advantage. A nightmare for many Italians and an unbelievable twist of irony for the rest of the world, the 72-year old media magnate -- false hair, face lifts and lifted shoes, and Italy’s richest man -- thus becomes the nation’s prime minister for the fourth time. Even before assuming office, irrepressible Berlusconi is ensconced in power where he will remain for a five-year term . . . and mortality permitting, most likely longer.

Today Berlusconi has more powers concentrated in his hands than in any Italian political leader since Benito Mussolini. In this cool April, a full month before he is to assume office, he is making pronunciamientos right and left on domestic and foreign issues and is in contact with his favorite foreign leaders, George Bush and Vladimir Putin.

Italy’s new quasi two-party system creates a totally different scenario from the diffused power of its traditional broad coalition parliamentary governments. This time electors opted for the compact coalition led by Berlusconi. In a watertight alliance with the (post) Fascist right, Berlusconi has a solid Parliamentary majority allowing him to establish in effect a one-man government, while at one stroke he eliminated from Parliament the Communist left opposition he so hates.

Italy’s government-in-the-making is so far right as to make Berlusconi’s previous governments appear leftist in comparison. Since his first government in 1994 and his two subsequent governments during the 2001-2006 legislature, Italy has in fact witnessed a steady degeneration of its representative political system.

In place of expression through the usual plethora of parties, Berlusconian populism embodies the political spirit of Italy. His Italian form of populism, however, already today displays symptoms of a further mutation, this time to something much uglier: to authoritarianism or worse, with tendencies toward fascism pure and simple.

One might wonder why one of the world’s richest men wants to continue in what in chaotic Italy’s reality is a backbreaking job? As of many dictators, one says that Berlusconi above all wants to be loved. A dangerous cliché indeed. Not for a minute do I believe that being loved is the point. Not for Silvio Berlusconi. In his world, love is for sale. He wants to be admired . . . and envied. But above all it’s a question of power. As others of his ilk, Berlusconi suffers from an insatiable need to command. In the final analysis, he wants it all. Humility and measure do not exist in his character or vocabulary. In his every manifestation Berlusconi appears as an unlikely saviour of the nation and the statesman he so wants to be. The total egoist, he recognizes no differences between what he controls politically or what he possesses. As Italian philosopher Norberto Bobbio once wrote, “Berlusconi is the classic tyrant who thinks that what common mortals only dream, for him is permitted. The characteristic of the tyrant is the belief that he can do anything.”

The identity of the Italian has been shaky since the unification of Italy a century and a half ago. For that reason the fascist state which ruled Italy from 1922-1944 remains in the DNA of many Italians, the eternal puppets of unpredictable power. If one speaks of the erosion of civil liberties and a nascent police state in Great Britain, so much the more so in Italy today. In these times of uncontrollable immigration, globalization, the loss of jobs and lack of opportunities, dwindling incomes and pressures from the European Union itself to obey the rules, the images of an Italy that once counted on the world scene remain fixed in the popular memory. That fabled Italy is Berlusconi’s obsession. And a majority of Italians seem to believe he can bring it back.

No wonder the super capitalist, globalist European Union (EU) has Italy under strict observation. And well it should. For official Europe neither trusts nor understands Italy. Today, the Italy that has often marked new social-political directions for the Continent, seems ready to veer off into some uncontrollable and uncharted direction, poised to make an unpredictable leap into the dark.

In the popular imagination, Italy is still Europe’s most loved country, “the land where lemon trees bloom,” Goethe romantically wrote. But Goethe was a poet and never understood Italy, either. He would be chagrined that this Italy stands on the edge of an abyss. The Alps separating Italy from the rest sometimes seems to be demonic, dooming Italy to outrageous behavior.

Yet, after the victory of the right, Italy today is surprisingly calm.

April 28 Today Gianni Alemanno, a fiery exponent of the neo-fascist National Alliance Party (Alleanza Nazionale), the political heir of Mussolini’s Fascist Party and Berlusconi’s chief political ally, was elected mayor of Rome. He is the first rightwing mayor in over 60 years. His program: security, zero tolerance toward illegal immigrants and the others of society. Alemanno comes from the ranks of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano-MSI) that immediately after World War II emerged like a Phoenix from the ashes of Benito Mussolini’s German puppet state, the Italian Social Republic in north Italy. Alemanno’s upset victory reconfirms Italy’s bent for the reckless and the irrational.

April 30 Today, two days later, Gianfranco Fini, president of National Alliance, and the personal heir in a direct line from Mussolini’s Fascist Party and the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, was elected (actually appointed by Silvio Berlusconi) president of the incoming Chamber of Deputies. Signs of the times: On a walk through Rome while campaigning for his fascist colleague, Alemanno, an arrogant Fini allegedly demanded to see immigrants’ residence permits.

Thus, neo-fascists now occupy two chief positions of power -- the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies, third in the state political hierarchy, and the mayoralty of Rome, in power and prestige worth more than several ministries. Again, “they” are climbing, climbing to the top.

May 5: Symptoms of the times: The victim of a beating by a Fascist-Nazi goon squad died in a Verona hospital today. On the same day at the opening of the huge Turin Book Fair -- now competing with the Frankfurt Book Fair -- the radical left of the Turin Social Forum burned an Israeli flag in protest against Israel’s “guest of honor” role at this year’s book show. In the evening on the nation’s major talk show the neo-president of the Chamber of Deputies, Fini, said that the events in Turin were much more “serious” than the murder in Verona. While in Verona, he reasoned, there was no ideological reference in the young man’s murder, in Turin “the radical left was trying to justify, with anti-Zionist slogans, its authentic anti-Semitism and political-religious prejudices.”

In effect, the president of the Chamber is laying the groundwork for repressions of dissent like those he (Fini) commanded in Genoa in 2001 (at the infamous G-8 conference where state police under neo-fascist control terrorized, beat and tortured anti-capitalist protesters, for which all police perpetrators have since been exonerated).

May 5: Though the new Berlusconi cabinet is not yet complete, we learned today that George Bush is scheduled to return to Rome on June 11 to visit his friend “Silvio.” Italy’s new “Sugary Sweet Dictatorship” must beef up relations with Washington and with Berlusconi’s dear friend “George” after the two-year hiatus of cool relations between the USA and Italy’s outgoing center left government. Bush will doubtless ask his vassal for more Italian military support in the East. And Berlusconi is always proud to send Italian ragazzi into the battlefields on America's missions. At the same time, Berlusconi needs US support for upgrading Italy’s relations with Israel without offending the sensibilities of the Arab world with which the center left government had closer relations.

May 5: The media today refer to reports of an Italian intelligence agency (AISI), according to which North-East Italy with its magnificent cities of Verona, Vicenza, Padua, and Treviso has the highest density of militant Nazi Skinheads in the country. The “Skinhead Front,” originally modeled on British skinheads in the 1980s, counts several hundred activists. Their symbols are swastikas, Nazi flags and Celtic crosses. Their look is that of the “metropolitan warrior,” whose hobbies are the martial arts and weights, and their values, class-consciousness and nationalism, echoing the physical force of ancient Roman legionaries.

As a rule, Nazi Skins are thugs with shaved heads and a low cultural level. Their Nazi Skinhead credo is a violent subculture typical of populist roughnecks: xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic, which they display mainly on city streets and in the soccer stadiums. Nazi Skins originate among youth of the hinterland who dedicate Saturday night to “boot parties,” as they call their physical aggressions of which the violent murder in downtown Verona is an example. Theirs is a double militancy: boot parties and physical battles in the stadium. Like mercenary goon squads anywhere they are always available to be exploited politically.

Among Italy’s 80,000 organized violent soccer fans -- called ultras -- according to the Interior Ministry 15,000 are of the violent right, organized into 63 groups and organizations, guided by obsessive socio-political slogans and military strategies. They constitute reservoirs of violence and embryonic political cells, as were Mussolini’s squadracci goon squads who took care of political murders. Soccer hooligans are capable of alliances with ultras of other teams in common causes and are fearless. In Rome some months ago, ultras of two teams allied to attack police barracks. As every city in Italy is aware, who controls the ultras controls a potentially powerful militia.

The Nazi Skinheads also head the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Italy, profanation of Jewish cemeteries and graffiti on the walls of Italy praising the Duce, Hitler and the crematoria ovens. Intolerance and aggression against weaker parts of society, against the others of society, emerge from this subculture of violence masked under the slogan of exacting justice alone. Fascist-organized nocturnal patrols of vigilantes, bearing the colorful label of “City Angels,” claim they protect “honest citizens” in Bologna or Milan from vicious immigrant predators.

The same racial intolerance and anti-Semitism are not only fashionable among Nazi Skinheads and the ultras of fascist origin. In the hinterland of big northern cities they originate also in the rural reservoir of the Northern League whose leader, Umberto Bossi, likes to warn in these days that if the left wants conflicts they should be careful, for he has 300,000 men in the North ready for them . . . and he means armed.

The Skinheads who assassinated the man in Verona allegedly over a cigarette are members of a faction of the extreme rightist “Veneto Skinhead Front.” It is composed of a couple dozen youths and of the Verona soccer fan club. A spontaneous loose organization of like-minded youth, they spout the same fascist ideologies and treasure the same Nazi symbols. From week to week their aggressions have mounted. Beatings because of the look of the other. Beatings to maintain control of the territory. In house searches, Verona police have found cassettes of films of their aggressions, cassettes for downloading and for sale.

Founded in 1986, the original Veneto Skinhead Front maintains relations with other right-wing groups in Europe. Its members have been involved in clashes with the police and left militants, and participate in neo-Nazi manifestations throughout Europe.

A film, Nazi Rock, narrates the rites and violence of the radical right rooted in and around the beautiful city of Verona at the foot of the Alps and near Lake Garda. Its leader was a certain Piero Puschiavo, also the leader of rock band whose music is called Nazi Rock because the song lyrics are a mix of racism, hate for immigrants, defense of roots and national identity and nostalgia for the old fascist Republic of Salò on the western shores of Lake Garda, as well as for Adolf Hitler of whom they admire “everything except that he lost.”

The former rock leader is now the coordinator in the Region of Veneto for the Tricolor Flame Social Movement, an extreme rightist splinter group headed by a long-time fascist who doubts the gas chambers ever existed. This same Luca Romagnoli was an honored guest at a Berlusconi political manifestation in December 2006 before 2 million spectators, when Berlusconi took Romagnoli’s hand and stroked the flag of the Flame movement. There has always been an alarming affinity and feeling between the extreme rightist organizations and Silvio Berlusconi.

When Berlusconi let Italy’s fascists out of the closet, he also liberated the grassroots of their affiliated extremist movements who feel liberated of past Nazi-Fascist crimes. Legitimated by the national political system, they feel they were right all along. Thus they are now doubly aggressive, as if to compensate for the post-war years when they were in the closet, negated by the Italian Republic constitutionally based on anti-fascism.

If the violence on the right continues growing at today’s pace (and there is much supportive data ignored or underplayed by the media), then there is real cause for alarm. Especially when it happens in the Region of Veneto, in the city of Verona, famous for Romeo and Juliet and art and opera lovers. Or in nearby Treviso where a Northern League leader incited (jokingly, one says) hunters to shoot at immigrants. Local heroes in this milieu are Alessandra Mussolini, the dictator’s granddaughter, a member of Parliament and part of Berlusconi’s coalition, and Roberto Fiore, head of the extreme right and the violent Forza Nuova organization. This violent fascist right is closely linked with the autonomist-separatist Northern League, in rich northern Italy, Berlusconi’s chief ally and his biggest vote getter. The folkloristic Northern League considers the Rome mayor’s Celtic Cross a symbol of their ancient Celtic ancestors . . . not of the SS, as it was.

May 7: Today, reflections on Italy’s extreme right are in order. For Berlusconi’s System Italy is incongruously under the fire of its own radical right, Europe’s most powerful and aggressive right. The right of past golpes. The right the rest of the European right mistrusts. The right to the right of right that has insinuated itself into public opinion, political parties, the press and into the government itself. This right, largely concealed today, still resembles that of Central American reactionaries or the right of Chilean and Argentinean generals. This powerful radical right of the right is capable of shifting the axis of public discussion and of attracting dark forces and ideas into its own field, while it goes about dismantling, piece by piece, the construction of the public spirit that secular, Catholic, liberal, communist and socialist builders of modern Italy have realized in the 60 years since the creation of the Italian Republic.

The radical right is a transversal force. Stealthily it also passes through center right parties. It insinuates itself into the center. In Italy, this right is stronger and more rooted than the radical right in other European countries. Powerful before the April elections and now certified and empowered by the Berlusconi-fascist win, it is broadening its base and is capable of making an imprint on the government.

For three-quarters of a century, this radical right has been violent. It is very visible in parts of the Northern League in the hinterlands of northern Italy, linked to the diffused mood of xenophobia and the demand for separatism. League people in the backcountry of Lombardy and Veneto love to speak of their ready arms and of separation from Roma ladrona (thieving Rome). They have their flags and their Parliament and call North Italy Padania for the valley of Italy’s greatest river, the Po, separating North Italy from the rest.

Nonetheless this right is most dangerously nested in the viscera of the neo- post-fascist National Alliance, AN. Parts of the second party of the government coalition have never digested the party’s “democratic” reforms and its move toward the center. Therefore it is no surprise when the AN president and top leaders -- members of the new government and the political establishment -- assume radical right positions, as did Chamber President Fini concerning the Turin anti-Israeli manifestations.

Here one wonders if the dog (Berlusconi) is wagging its tail, or the tail (AN), the dog.

Gullible people believe that on the way to legitimacy Fini and his ANI morphed into democrats. In my view nothing could be more false. As writer Ignazio Silone said of socialists (once a socialist, a socialist forever!), the same goes for fascists. Although during Stalinism many communists reneged their faith and became ferocious anti-communists, I have never noted that fascists, despite Mussolini or Hitler, genuinely mutate into communists.

May 8, 2008: The scene: the splendid Quirinal Palace, the former palace of the popes of Rome sitting atop the Roman hill of the same name with the city of Rome sprawling at its feet, today the official seat and residency of the Italian presidency. This evening President Giorgio Napoletano (a former communist) swore in the new cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi in a traditional ceremony repeated with the formation of each of Italy’s new governments, for Berlusconi the fourth time.

Berlusconi had promised a cabinet of 12 ministers. Today he named 21. Pressures from his coalition allies who gave him their votes forced him to add nine ministers without portfolio, that is, ministers without budgets. Particularly conspicuous are the four ministers of the post-fascist National Alliance and the four of the Northern League proudly wearing their folkloristic green neckties.

In the cabinets -- in Italy called “governments” -- that I have experienced this must be the weakest and the most colorless, except its four young and glamorous women. Berlusconi boasts that the right has the most beautiful women . . . and he may be right in that. Except for a few key ministries -- finance, interior, justice and foreign affairs -- headed by Berlusconi’s most trusted allies, the new cabinet is marked by an absence of strong personalities capable of disagreement with the Leader. For today it’s a one-man show in Italy. The very composition of this cabinet mirrors Berlusconi’s objective of one-man rule.

Berlusconi has cleared the path of all obstacles in his ascent toward the top. He controls the executive and legislative branch completely. After naming his own man justice minister, he has made peace with the judiciary via a closer relationship with the president of Italy who is president of the Superior Council of the Magistracy, the control organ of the judiciary. Berlusconi created his own party, Popolo della Libertà (People of Freedom), changing party names, leaders and programs at will of the nation’s biggest political party. On national TV, Italians saw him sprawled over the hood of an automobile one evening on a Milan piazza, , when he casually announcd to his disciples the formation of his new party to replace his Forza Italia (Let’s Go Italy!). He preferred the name, Popolo della Libertà, which was quickly adopted. He then crushed the radical left opposition with a tailored electoral law which obliterated the communists he so hates and reduced the trade unions to bickering bureaucracies. After taming Parliament (which he scorns anyway) by personally naming a closed list of candidates who were promptly elected by the “sovereign people,” he created a weak cabinet and a working relationship with the relatively powerless president. As chief of government he has much control over the three public television networks, in addition to his own three networks. For the realization of his neo-corporatism, he has established close relationships with the business world and named the outgoing president of the Association of Italian Industrialists as his roving ambassador For Made In Italy. Since in his previous government he successfully resolved his conflicts with justice by passing laws ad personam and strengthened his media control, no one any longer speaks of his enormous conflict of interests as big as a New Year’s hangover.

Berlusconi’s goal is alteration of the constitution to make of Italy a presidential system with wide powers concentrated in the hands of the president, powers comparable to presidents of the USA or Russia . . . if not more. That is the state he dreams of heading. Today the grim reality is that he has the parliamentary numbers and the political clout to accomplish it.

Such are the machinations of a man of unlimited ambition whose greatest regret must be that he was not born American or Russian so that he could rule over an empire. Instead, for many, he remains the Milan businessman of jokes, songs and back-slapping bonhomie and vulgarity, albeit much more cunning than the others.

Though the label Sugary Sweet Dictatorship (Dolce Dittatura is now of common usage in the Italian press) is an oximoron of the first order, it eloquently describes Italy’s complex history and its maddening contemporary reality which few mortals comprehend. Berlusconi, however, does. And for a time, limited only by his mortality, Silvio Berlusconi will continue to dictate to the nation in one way or another.

Still, Italy today is strangely politically calm.

May 9: Contradictorily, Italy is in Marxian terminology a political nation. Especially so during the 20th century when it followed Mussolini’s fascist dream. Shortly afterwards, Italy then boasted of the West’s biggest Communist party, a third of the population voting Communist. Since both fascists and communists provided extensive political education, one believed that Italians were politically sophisticated. Reality is, they are no less gullible than “the people” everywhere. Last century, in the 70s and 80s, millions of frustrated and passionate people were tempted by the illusion of armed revolution. And today, ahead of most of the Western world, over 80 percent of Italians vote in each election. Yet. their gullibility, their capricious volatile nature and frustration led them to vote again for Berlusconi and his right dream.

The first goal of Berlusconi’s Sweet Dictatorship is to de-politicize the nation. His ready optimism in the face of grim realities reflects his efforts to erode political awareness by the constant creation of false values and false consciousness. Like Marx’s Prussian (Critical Notes on the King of Prussia and Social Reform), Berlusconi wants to make of Italy an unpolitical nation. His aim is to reduce the political system, the bourgeoisie and working classes to uninformed and politically uneducated masses. Such is the nature of an unpolitical society.

May 9: Today, in a positive comment on my recent article about the winds of the right blowing over Europe, a reader raises the question of equating right and fascism. His question is pertinent. The answer is ‘no,’ they are not always the same. There are conservative movements of the right, that, though socially unjust, do not merit the term fascism. But, I would add, they often do.

Antonio Gramsci, whom historian Eric Hobsbawm labeled Europe’s most original communist thinker of the 20th century and who co-founded the Italian Communist Party, defined fascism thus: a movement of the petty bourgeoisie reacting to a loss of political importance in society. It has two faces, one revolutionary, the other conservative. It starts by emphasizing its first face but it soon allies with capitalism and turns on its revolutionary wing.

Today, as in Gramsci’s times, Italian fascism is also a rural phenomenon. Actually ‘rural’ today means the densely populated areas of the small towns in north and south Italy as well as the workers suburbs of Milan and Rome where Berlusconi’s great electoral reservoir is found. That same spirit then spreads to the cities and to the nation. (This “rural” container is little different from the banlieues of Paris and of heartland America.)

Fascism is thus only partly a class phenonenon because it overflows and breaks the dikes of every organizational framework, again, as is happening in Italy today, as is happening in the USA. The phenomenon of fascism unleashes elemental and uncontrollable social forces. Ultimately these forces underline the decay of society and the political system inherent in its low cultural level.

Sixty years have passed since Mussolinian fascism collapsed. Yet the basic characteristics of fascism remain unchanged everywhere, in any climate or latitude. So how can we label what is happening here? Today? In 2008? Is it a revolution, one wonders? Is “Sugary Sweet Dictatorship” enough? How will history designate it? What are its characteristics? What adjective most effectively describes the Berlusconi System-government that was officially sworn in today: authoritarian, totalitarian, corporatist, or fascist? All four names are current in Italy.

Authoritarianism in politics is defined as a form of social control characterized by strict obedience to the authority of the state, a control enforced by oppressive measures if need be, marked by an inevitable erosion of civil liberties. The authoritarian government is undemocratic and exists quite well without the consent of the governed.

Totalitarianism is more method. It describes the workings of a state that regulates both public and private sectors. A modern totalitarian regime may maintain itself in power by propaganda disseminated through controlled mass media and the creation of false consciousness, or also by a personality cult, invasive rules, regulations and laws, the restriction of free discussion and dissent, the use of mass surveillance, terror, false-flag operations and the strategy of tension.

Fascism is a combination of the above, both total and authoritarian, characterized by a centralized, autocratic state governed by a dictatorial chief, close control of the economy and society and aggressive repression of opposition. Fascism is nationalistic to the extreme, reducing the interests of the individual to the interests of the nation, promoting a kind of national rebirth by with “cults” of unity, exceptionalism and supremacy over other nations and races. Integral characteristics of fascism include: patriotism, nationalism, militarism, populism, anti-liberalism, anti-communism, state planning and corporatism.

What major state-government today most closely corresponds is obvious.

Corporatism as such is an integral component of the fascist state as conceived by Italy’s Benito Mussolini. Corporatism implies the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism and militarism, in effect a dictatorship of the extreme right. In practice corporatism and fascism are one and the same.

Berlusconism: The Sugary Sweet Dictatorship

Each of the four terms -- authoritariansim, totalitariansisn, fascism and coporatism -- comprise characteristics of several contemporary “democratic” governments in the USA and Europe -- especially apparent in the USA and Berlusconian Italy. Berlusconi is not satisfied with even a quasi presidential form of government, certainly not with a parliamentary system with which he has no patience. For him decisionism and authoritarianism are synonymous, the system he believes “the people” desire.

In practice, his ideal system is a leap forward toward dictatorship, soft, sweet or sugary as it may be. In his entourage, in his party, in his Parliament and cabinet, in his Italy, the most loyal to the chief occupy the crucial positions. While his other appointments are very young, very inexperienced, with no political back-up and no specific capabilies that qualify them for their jobs. The smell of power, the sensation of power and the extensive privileges and emoluments that go with power make Berlusconi’s men subservient to the Leader.

Berlusconi’s system has been defined as a new “corporate right.” Despite internal differences and nuances among his allies, they all accept the indisputed Leader as the unifier of their diverse identities. In the breakdown of the new Italian right, the particular presence of the Northern League stands out. This Northern League-fascist imprint, populist and rich in fascist overtones, in turn influences Berlusconi, sweeping him further rightwards. The stamp of this anomalous majority is destined to influence today’s Italian political system so out of tune with the rest of the European right.

It is a trusim that the smell of power is a strong cement. Whatever internal conflicts might arise in this right, they will have little effect on the endurance of Berlusconi’s regime . . . and regime it will be. Populism and soft dictatorship are here to stay. Berlusconi wants no battle with anyone. Not even with the almost tame opposition. As he repeats to all his people, he wants to avoid mistakes, as if they were pulling off the great train robbery of the century. A quiet legislature with no scrapes, no errors, no internecine warfare. Much more than the “saviour of the nation” and the “statesman of the century,” his aim is to push through constitutional changes for a genuine presidential system . . . with him at the helm. His “magnificent obsession” remains the Quirinal Palace, the Presidential Palace on the hill.

Far in advance of the swing to the right in the bigger countries of West Europe -- Germany, Great Britain and France -- events in these days dramatize Italy’s vigorous leap to the extreme right, marked by a drift toward authoritarianism, a leap accompanied by a squeeze on mass organizations and the crushing of dissent. Some observers wonder if the elimination of the (radical) left from the Rome Parliament -- a left still present in all other European parliaments -- was a decision of the right, or of the bourgeoisie, or of capitalism . . . or of all three together. Or was it the Trilateralists or the Bilderbergers? However that may be, it smacks suspiciously of a top-level plan.

Today I received disturbing information from an old friend concerning a plot: In 2006, after the center left was elected in Italy, a highly placed DC operative told this friend, “Wait a little longer. After Chirac leaves in France, we will have our man at the Elysée Palace. Then Italy will see good old Silvio telling his jokes again . . . and they will all sing the chorus to the neocon song.” This brings to mind earlier years in post-war Europe when the Company (CIA) was running rampant and paying off anyone on the way! And decades later when one of them said to me in an off-the-cuff interview about Italy: “We run things here.”

The Italian left was in fact severely punished by an electoral law which neither center right nor center left bothered to touch. It is also true that the Americanized center left Democratic Party which lost the elections, has renounced Social Democracy, becoming more center than left. It now seems that all parties to the right of the radical left intended simplifying the political spectrum by expelling that left and eliminating opposition to Italy’s market-driven society.

The authoritarian temptation is a system modeled on the USA. A system without opposition is the dream of aspirant regimes. Perhaps Berlusconi’s Italy is not yet identifiable as fascism, which was something with different historic roots and characteristics -- albeit something terrible with its corporatism, militarism, nationalism and racist laws -- something that perhaps cannot be repeated today.Nonetheless, Italy has fallen headlong into the snakepit of a still unpredictable authoritarianism.

Today, a certain Italy is only dangerously calm.

May 9: While Berlusconi reflects on the nomination of under secretaries, I want to recall the history of fascism which still fascinates Italians as if it happened yesterday. Both culturally or politically, Italy’s present is intertwined and permeated with the idea of fascism.

Flashback: Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), the Fascist dictator from 1922-1943, centralized all power in himself as the leader, il Duce. In his thirst for grandeur and his attempt to create a new Italian empire, he allied with Nazi Germany and led Italy into disaster and to his own downfall. After Italy’s military defeat by the Allies, Mussolini’s colleagues turned on him and held him under arrest until German paratroopers rescued him and took him to German-occupied north Italy. Like a modern Napoleon on Elba, Mussolini established a tiny German-dependent puppet state, the Italian Social Republic or Repubblica Sociale Italiana, RSI, called also the Republic of Salò for the charming town of Salò on the western shores of Lake Garda where it was headquartered.

Germany supported the little fascist state, which had no economy nor government, in order to maintain order, combat Italian partisans and persecute Jews. Italians loyal to Mussolini and rural youth recruited in north Italy around Lake Garda and the Veneto Region then engaged in a civil war against Italian partisans, a war in which Mussolini promised to turn Milan into the Stalingrad of Italy. To regain popular support, he made many promises -- to remove the monarchy and pursue the real ideology of fascism depicted as progressive and social. Still, he maintained close personal relations with Hitler, urging him to destroy Great Britain, a prerequisite for peace in Europe, he believed. As the war drew to an end, both Germany and victorious Allies raped and devastated Italy, the fault of fascism and Mussolini’s grandeur complexes. After a humiliated Mussolini lost the support of his people and his German masters, he was captured by Italians partisans, summarily executed and his body hung by his feet on a Milan piazza.

In this atmosphere, supporters of Mussolini in 1946 created the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, or MSI). For 25 years the MSI existed as a paralegal movement until, in a tactical move, during the Cold War it removed some of its fascist symbols and recognized Italian democracy. But it still included extremist organizations infiltrated by rogue Italian and American intelligence engaged in false flag operations such as the masscre at the Bologna train station in 1980 that killed 80 people: the aim was to terrorize people into voting for authoritarian government and to cast the blame on the Communist Party.

I had the personal testimony of fascists associated with Gladio, NATO’s top secret stay-behind paramilitary Cold War organization. Gladio, intelligence agencies and the extreme right operating with CIA assistance have been accused of the 1978 abduction and murder of the Christian Democratic leader, Aldo Moro, guilty of attempting to bring the Italian Communist Party into the national government. Though Red Brigadists executed the Moro crime, I have long believed that that second edition of the Red Brigades -- by then most of the original organizers were in jail -- was maneuvered by the CIA and Italian intelligence. MSI organizations were implicated in rightwing coup d’état attempts in the 1970s and '80s and were engaged in violence during the lead years of terrorism, gli anni di piombo. Finally, in 1995, the MSI changed its name to the National Alliance Party (AN) and became Berlusconi’s chief and most loyal ally and coalition partner.

AN president and the neo-president of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, is thus the direct heir of Mussolinian fascism. He personally fostered the transformation of MSI to Alleanaza Nazionale, which he describes as neo-liberal right-wing and centrist-oriented. Unconvinced neo-fascist hardliners instead founded parallel movements such as that of the Duce’s granddaughter Alessandra Mussolini’s Alternativa Sociale (Social Alternative). She is on Berlusconi’s team and was elected to Parliament in his ranks.

For 50 years, the MSI stood for intransigent anti-communism, a strong executive, aggressive government, opposition to the superpowers in international politics, and a third way between liberal capitalism and socialism. The MSI-AN DNA remains the same, though Fini and its leaders are subservient to Berlusconi who has incorporated all those themes as his own. Berlusconi’s Peoples Freedom Party is absorbing also the MSI-AN organization, a two-way process by which it too becomes the heir of Mussolinian fascism.

One doubt remains in my mind. Considering the complex history of the fascist MSI-AN, who, I wonder, is absorbing whom? Berlusconi, Fini? Or is Fini, surreptitiously, bit by bit perhaps assimilating Berlusconi?

May 11: Speaking to the national assembly of Alleanza Nazionale in Rome to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Giorgio Almirante, the founder of the neo-fascist MSI, Gianfranco Fini proclaimed: “We won!” The AN president meant the final victory of the right and in effect he summed up the ideological battles of the 20th century for the souls and allegiance of the European working man . . . and perhaps he meant too the vindication of Benito Mussolini. “The radical left no longer exists,” Fini added triumphantly, “but we are here and we have carried right thought to the nation. Therefore we must assume in its stead the defense of workers and social themes.” (Mussolini’s program!)

In an irresistable return to the Fascist-Nazi prediliction for ritual, Fini then read out one by one the names of Italy’s fascist heroes-saints, including that of Almirante, the spiritual father of Italian neo-fascism. “We are not the sons of a minor god,” Fini said to the notables of Italy’s political world. Though no one present asked, I had the thought that many must have remembered just whose sons they are.

In harmony with Fini’s script, neo-Interior Minister Roberto Maroni of the Northern League, in another part of Rome announced stringent new measures against illegal immigrants, declaring them criminals to be arrested and deported. In effect, the left press noted, new racial laws! Italy’s borders are to be closed to Roma (Gypsies) and to the “perfidious” Romanians, widely considered the Mexicans of Italy. The latter caused the Bucarest govrnment, now part of the EU, to remind Rome that blocking borders is a flagrant violation of the EU’s Schengen Accords permitting the free movement of the Union’s peoples from one country to the other.

May 12: Today, Berlusconi filled in the last empty slots in his political power network with the nomination of 37 under secretaries attached to the various ministries, including eight for himself and eight more to his neo-fascist allies. While in Bologna, in the north, the political battle over the use of neo-fascist vigilantes raged, in the Rome Viminal Palace the interior minister prepared a government decree making illegal immigration a crime.

May 13: Les jeux sont faits! The Berlusconi government system, the Sugary Dictatorship, is in place. The wheels of state can now begin to turn. Where it will stop, well, no one really knows. But we can speculate on what all this means.

May 14: Racial laws are returning. TV newscasts show eerie scenes of flames rising against nighttime skies in the suburbs of Rome and Milan and Naples. Dangerous old words are again fashionable -- tight police control, armed traffic police, special commissars, oppression, deportation, revolt, ghettos, camps. Nightmare alley images of fires rising in the night do not lie. Away with the Roma is the mood! Gypsy camps are burning in the night. Incited by the mood of intolerance from above, citizen vigilantes armed with clubs and organized criminals of the Camorra are invading makeshift Roma camps around the big cities. Molotov coctails ignite the shacks and tents and ramshackled cars and vans. It’s Krystal Nacht for Italy’s Gypsies who have been here forever, many Italian citizens. Hitler, one recalls, began with the expulsion of the Gypsies, the perfidious Zigeuner.

May 15: As the the new government of Silvio Berlusconi inaugurates Italy’s Third Republic, the attempt to quantify the fascist role is pertinent. For the number of neo-fascists installed in key positions in the Sweet Dictatorship is staggering. Here, from the top down, are those who trace their political geneaology straight back to Mussolini,: Fianfranco Fini occupies the third power position in Italy, the presidency of the Chamber of Deputies, while Gianni Alemanno is solidly entrenched as the mayor of Rome. Alleanza Nazionale occupies four major ministries, and has another eight under secretaries infilrating other ministries. The web of power then extends downwards, down into city, provincial, and regional administrations, into the media world, the world of business and finance, and the enormous bureaucratic network of commissions and committees and consultants and lobbies that ultimately influence the direction of a nation. Especially in the rich north the fascistoid Northern League occupies a like number of positions. And over all the power structure, Berlusconi’s falange, the corporatist authoritarian People of Freedom Party, Italy’s biggest political organization today.

The long-term significance of the march to power of System Berlusconi (the person Silvio Berlusconi and his People of Freedom Party, the neo-fascist AN and the populist Northern League, their cabinet, their Parliament, their media and public and private organizations) is the defeat of even the century-old idea of a working class movement in Italy. It seems to extinguish the faintest glimmer of hope for even a mild form of modern socialism. A sad spectacle, the caged left, trapped in a dark corner of extra-parliamentary opposition, today adrift and deprived of feasible ideas for its rebirth.

Instead, basking in the limelight, Berlusconi’s People of Freedom prance around the political stage, unbridled arrogance surging from their very pores while their electoral promises begin to dissipate. And freedom for whom? One asks. From whom? The freedom for longer work days, proclaims the right. Freedom for more productivity, advise the new state ministers. Freedom for longer work hours at Europe’s lowest pay, complains the left. Freedom of precarious six-month work contracts so as not to be bound to a lifetime of toil, proclaim hypocrites. Freedom for wives and mothers to work longer hours exactly as their husbands . . . at lower pay. Freedom to labor and work instead of long and dreary university study. Freedom to serve people and nation in the armed forces in Afghanistan, in support of Berlusconi’s precious friend, George W. Bush.

May 15: Official Italy seems calm today.

An eerie political calm seems to reign over the riotous, unruly, anarchic peninsula state of Italy which, according to Giovanni Giolitti, five time prime minister early last century, was not at all difficult to govern. Though, as he said, it was useless.

As in Cold War years, so in the Berlusconi era, the fear of leftist communists and the desire of many Italians to be a normal nation has led to today’s unconscious toleration of the rise of a nascent form of authoritarian government with many characteristics of fascism.

* Based in Rome, Gaither Stewart is Cyrano Journal’s Senior Editor and European Correspondent. Well known for his dispatches and essays from Europe, Gaither is currently focused on the re-emergence of fascist parties and far rightist movements on the European continent.

Gaither Stewart
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