Year XXXVI, 1994, Number 2 - Page 89
Neo-fascists in the Italian Government
Federalism as an ideology and a political movement was born in Ventotene out of the awareness that fascism had been an extreme and desperate attempt of the nation-state, and of parasitic interests connected to it, to perpetuate their own existence by imposing a totalitarian regime and exalting nationalism, in the face of the irresistible historical trend to create ever larger areas of democratic government, caused by the continuous increase of interdependence among people. Federalism opposed this crude and tribal ideology, which was based on hatred and discrimination, with the historic plan of suppressing war and oppression by overcoming national sovereignty and by creating international democracy, initially in a European, then in a world framework.
Federalism, then, is not only different from fascism, but its exact opposite. If we heed closely the idealistic roots of our political commitment, we can not declare ourselves to be anti-fascists and federalists, but rather anti-fascists because we are federalists. Anti-fascism, in the real meaning of the term, and federalism are the same thing.
However, while for consciously-experienced federalism the identification with anti-fascism is complete, it is also true that the values of the resistance are objectively the idealistic basis on which the Italian republic was constructed; and that these values inspired that section of the political class that knew how to place and maintain (albeit not without weaknesses, delays and hypocrisy) Italy on the rails of European unification and of Atlantic co-operation. In this way a country that the war brought on by fascism had reduced to a pile of ruins, was guaranteed almost half a century of peace, and with peace the possibility to grow in liberty and prosperity.
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Italy has recently witnessed a phenomenon without precedent in post second world war Europe: the formation of a government which includes members of a neo-fascist party (Alleanza Nazionale – National Alliance). This is a fact that the federalists should analyse with great care, because their judgement on this aspect of the current political framework calls into question their identity, and hence their very existence.
In fact Alleanza Nazionale denies being a neo-fascist grouping. Yet its essential component is the Movimento Sociale Italiano (Italian Social Movement), a party founded post-war on unequivocally neo-fascist policies, and which has never subsequently abandoned them, even though it has always been divided into hard-line and “respectable” wings. In light of its inclusion in the government, Alleanza Nazionale has strongly emphasised its moderate nature. Today many of its leaders adopt positions that are much more reasonable than those of numerous members of the extreme currents to be found in many European conservative parties that are often in power in their respective countries, and whose commitment to democracy no-one would consider denying.
It is true that there has remained within Alleanza Nazionale a grouping that openly harks back to fascism, and that the declarations of the party leaders themselves are far from unambiguous. Yet this ambiguity could be interpreted as the price that the more responsible leaders are obliged to pay to lead the party into the fold of a moderate right-wing movement that recognises and accepts the principles of democracy and that allows for the creation in Italy of a healthy alternation between a conservative line-up and a progressive one, as happens in Anglo-Saxon democracies and, even if in an imperfect way, in the other democracies of Western Europe. To this can be added the fact that, on the basis of opinion polls, only a negligible percentage of Alleanza Nazionale voters declare themselves to be fascist, and that anyway Alleanza Nazionale is a minority partner in the government coalition. Within the coalition, the component that won the strongest support in terms of votes, “Forza Italia”, despite having concluded an electoral as well as governmental alliance with Alleanza Nazionale, and despite having repeatedly expressed disturbing populist and nationalistic attitudes in some of its policy declarations, has never formally questioned its commitment to the values of liberty and democracy.
However the idea that Alleanza Nazionale could transform itself into a component of a grand right-wing democratic grouping, without ceasing to exist, is hardly credible. All political movements live in a continuum, drawing on the memory of their origins for the force to pursue their own projects. They have therefore an insuperable element of inertia that is linked to the nature of the choice out of which they were founded, and that conditions, over and above the alterations brought about by the need to tailor themselves to an evolving situation, the way in which their militants perceive the motivation of their common commitment. Currently, Alleanza Nazionale is the point of arrival of an evolutionary process that began in neo-fascism, and it would not exist without the latter: a neo-fascism that can not be denied without repudiating the movement’s past and hence its identity, on which depends its very existence.
It is often said in Italy that a rejection of Alleanza Nazionale is an indication of sectarianism, because, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, the communists have been legitimised as part of the democratic political line-up despite being the descendants of Stalinism. That the memory of Stalin has placed obstacles in the way of those who opted to bring communism back into the enclave of democracy is a matter of fact. And it is right that this was so, because the atrocities of Stalinism were as cruel as those of nazism, and without a doubt considerably more cruel than those of Italian fascism. There remains, however, the fact that communism originated in the proletariat’s struggle to emancipate itself in the name of the universal ideals of equality between people and liberation from want. Stalinism was, then, a tragic degenerative episode of a movement that in its founding ideals provided a vital contribution to the political culture of mankind and to its process of emancipation. Fascism, on the other hand, was founded on the negative values of man’s oppression of man, of national hatred and of intolerance. It is for this reason that some ex-communist parties have been able, with much effort, to legitimise themselves again by a return to their original values and the rejection of the degenerative episodes that have stained their history, while this option is not open to movements of fascist origin. And this is why the trend towards the polarisation of political life that is currently manifesting itself in Italy is unhealthy.
Italy is unlikely, in the short term, to risk any real danger of a fascist regression. Yet it remains a fact that the future of Italian democracy depends on the solidity of the European framework, which is the precondition for the Italian economy’s capacity to keep step, one way or another, with the other advanced economies; and that the European framework would be greatly weakened if the national-populist trends in the foreign and economic policy of one of the Community’s founding countries, that had until now been one of the most explicit and consistent supporters of its federal vocation, were reinforced. In any event, Italian society is from now on running the real danger of the trivialisation of fascism, that is of the end of anti-fascism. It is disturbing to note how nowadays in Italy arguments such as that the opposition between fascism and anti-fascism has by now been consigned to history, and that it is time to undertake the task of “national reconciliation”, are being given serious consideration. Such a formula attempts to put on an equal plane the reconciliation between people (that is an inexistent problem, if for no other reason than because those that personally experienced the drama of the fall of fascism, and of the resistance, are old or dead) and a compromise between the values of liberty and democracy, and their negation. Values (and their opposites) do not die, nor do they grow old; nor can they be separated from the judgement of events and movements through which they have historically manifested themselves. The great idealistic affirmations of the French revolution have become the everlasting patrimony of the human race. Conversely the historic identification of fascism with dictatorship and nationalist violence can not be erased by the passing of time. Those who currently pretend to profess the values of liberty and democracy without simultaneously rejecting their negation, as it has concretely manifested itself in history, are not credible because they remain prisoners of an incurable contradiction.
It is difficult in today’s Italy to escape the deep unease that provokes the observation that for many people fascism has become an idea like any other – that like other ideas it has a right to a place in political debate. Above all other considerations, the spread of this attitude is an indication of the dramatic worsening of the crisis of Italian political life that has coincided with last April’s profound changes in the political landscape, in which many wanted to see the dramatic breakthrough of something “new”.
A serious indication of this crisis lies precisely in the fact that in the current Italian government, nationalistic and anti-European positions are gaining ground, even if inevitably attenuated and rendered ambiguous by the awareness that no national policy can be carried forward today in Europe without some form of co-operation among the states of the European Union. And if it is true that nationalism is always and everywhere a regressive phenomenon that turns its back on the future, it is a sign of a profound civil malaise and of a very serious rejection of values in a country such as Italy, where the war against fascism was not fought as a national war, as was the case in Great Britain and to a certain extent in France, but where, on the contrary, nation and fascism have been historically identified as one and the same thing.
It is true that April’s electoral earthquake had specific causes, the most evident of which was the reaction of public opinion against the corruption of the parties that had governed Italy in the post-war decades. But it is necessary strenuously to guard against the temptation to confuse the historical understanding of a phenomenon with its moral justification. In politics there is a time to understand and a time to judge. It should not be forgotten that nazism also had specific historical causes, yet that understanding them does not render nazism itself less odious.
The political parties of the first republic largely betrayed their ideologies by their concrete actions, and were jointly responsible for the progressive degeneration of Italian political life – even if this phenomenon has not been only Italian, and even if its ultimate cause should be identified in the inability of European governments and political forces as a whole to lead the process of continental unification to a federal conclusion. But their ideologies, whose roots lie in the great civil struggles of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th, however much they were professed superficially and hypocritically, forced Italy’s post-war political parties to orient themselves in political debate with regard to values, to seek legitimisation and continuity in their own historical past, and to try to delineate perspectives for the future. For this reason these parties, although not all at the same time, came to recognise themselves unreservedly in the ideal of European unity and they spread acceptance of this to almost the whole of public opinion. Today on the other hand, after the dramatic breakthrough of the “new”, the reference to values, to history and to the future has simply disappeared from politics, substituted by crude and provincial nationalistic outbursts and by a pragmatism that is only a screen for a lack of ideas. Today’s Italy is worse than the bad Italy of yesterday.
Some argue that they can not condemn the presence of neo-fascists in the Italian government, asserting that this is the result of the democratic expression of the Italian people’s will, and as such must be respected. If by that the aim is to state that this disturbing phenomenon should be combated with the tools of democracy, then the argument is simply obvious. But if the argument is used to legitimise the neo-fascists politically, it should be rejected. Moreover, if it were sound, it would serve to legitimise historically the fascist and nazist regimes, which rose to power using the tools of democracy. The truth is that in today’s Europe, the states, to recall one of Einaudi’s famous expressions, are dust without substance. And dust without substance are also the national peoples. The Italian people can not express any will because it has simply ceased to exist, in as much as within the Italian framework there no longer exist real alternatives from which to make a choice.
Or rather, the Italian people continue to exist only as part of the European people-in-the-making, as do the other peoples of the European states, and only in this form can they express their will, regain the capacity to pursue projects and possess again an authentic historical understanding. The something “new” of which in today’s Italy there is so much talk, most of it superficial and hypocritical, will emerge only when a political grouping is formed on the basis of the awareness that the change on which Italy’s and Europe’s salvation depends is that which consists specifically of giving expression to the European federal people that is in the process of coming about. Yet politicians, old and new alike, are prisoners of the contests of the past and obstinately refuse to recognise this.