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Neo-fascism from the Twentieth Century to the Third Millennium: The Case of Italy


Italian political history over the last 100 years offers a unique opportunity to analyse the relationships between fascism and populism. Neo-fascism represents a political movement—deeply rooted in Italian history—dating back to the end of the 1940s; over the years, it has been expressed in various ways, some of which have been incorporated into parliamentary dynamics, while others have chosen the anti-system path. Both trends have preserved elements of the neo-fascist tradition and, at the same time, re-adapted traditional messages (including anti-Semitism, anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism).

This chapter looks at the political dynamics surrounding the evolution of neo-fascism and neo-fascist groups and parties in post-war Italy up to the present day and then focuses on two neo-fascist organisations formed in the 1990s, Forza Nuova and Casa Pound. It analyses their symbols, values, beliefs and forms of ‘othering’—marking the division between us and the others. The history, programmes and political activitiesy of the two organisations are used to outline the differences between neo-fascism and neopopulism. While neo-fascism has a strong ideological dimension, neopopulism is a chameleon-like trend crossing a great many EU countries and responding to various challenges (globalisation, post-industrial economic conditions, immigration, European Union constraints). In Italy, it is mainly represented by the Northern League.

Neo-fascism and neopopulism overlap in targeting some issues, such as hostility to immigration. They also tend to oppose ‘the system’—corrupt politics, financial capitalism, the European Union which is an instrument of financial capitalism and has deprived Italy of sovereignty. But although they may be in admixture in some cases, populism and neo-fascism are distinct phenomena. The notions of people and of the role of the state are far apart in populism and neo-fascism. The final section of the chapter looks at the victims of neo-fascist organisations and resistance to them established by organisations like ANPI (National Association of Italian Partisans).


  • Liberal Democracy
  • Financial Capitalism
  • Parliamentary System
  • Political Message
  • Holocaust Denial

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  1. 1.

    In Portugal, Salazar’s Estado Novo was a corporate state that had some similarities to Italian fascism, but also exhibited considerable differences from Mussolini’s fascism. Salazarism was strongly inspired by Catholicism. The papal encyclical Rerum Novarum (from its first two words, Latin for ‘of revolutionary change’[n 1]), or Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor, was issued by Pope Leo XIII on 15 May 1891 (Wiarda 1977). Moreover, Salazarist nationalism was not grounded in race or biology.

  2. 2.

    Small town by Lake Garda in Lombardy, capital of a fascist republic supported by the Germans.

  3. 3.

    See the BBC documentary Fascist Legacy.

  4. 4.

    The Christian Democrats had no liberal-democratic roots. After the unification of Italy (1861) the Vatican rejected an Italian nation state and prohibited Catholics from playing any part in it (including voting). It was only after World War that the Pope supported a party uniting peasants and the lower middle class, the Partito Popolare, founded by a priest, Don Sturzo. The Partito Popolare functioned within a system whose legitimacy the Church continued to reject. For the Popolari, the term ‘democrat’ went beyond signalling the acceptance of representative democracy,— meaning working for ordinary people.

  5. 5.

    The Communist Party became a major force in Italy after World War II; until the 1990s it was the biggest Western European Communist party.

  6. 6.

    The Fronte dell’ Uomo Qualunque stood in the 1946 election for the Constituent Assembly and won seats for 30 deputies. In 1948, when the Cold War polarised the elections, it only had 19 deputies, who transferred to the Liberal Party during the parliamentary term.

  7. 7.

    The town where Mussolini was born.

  8. 8.

    The June 1946 amnesties for crimes committed during the period of the Civil War (1943–1945) probably encouraged the foundation of the MSI.

  9. 9.

    In Italy, for example, Militia Christi—an extreme-right Catholic fundamentalist party without references to fascist legacies. Many countries have parties (such as UKIP in the UK) whose far-right extremism is not connected with fascism in any way.

  10. 10.

    The MSI remained always faithful to the idea of fascism as a ‘third way’ between communism and Anglo-Saxon capitalism, showing strong elements of anti-Americanism.

  11. 11.

    Traditionally, fascist narratives were inspired by Roman mythology; the discovery of the Nordic saga is part of the Europeanization of Italian neo-fascism.

  12. 12.

    In 1963 former Belgian SS member Jean Thiriart founded Jeune Europe, inaugurating neo-fascism in solidarity with Arab nationalism against US imperialism and Zionism. In Italy, a group close to Ordine Nuovo, the Young Nation, was associated with Jeune Europe (Tarchi 2010).

  13. 13.

    Florentine right-wing cultural and youth centre close to Fratelli d’Italia (see page 36).

  14. 14.

    The NAR were active from 1977 to 1981.

  15. 15.

    Roberto Fiore was involved in terrorist activities in the 1980s and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for organising terrorist groups (banda armata). He escaped to London but returned to Italy after being granted amnesty for his crimes.. It seems that, during his stay in the UK, Fiore was in touch with the National Front and created Terza Posizione Internazionale (International Third Position).

  16. 16.

    For the biography of Massimo Morsello, see Telese (2006).

  17. 17.

    Oi! developed originally in London and derived from the early skinhead movement. It tends to have more melody than other forms of punk and more choruses, in which the word oi! is repeated.

  18. 18.

    Gianfranco Fini had a disagreement with Silvio Berlusconi and was completely marginalized from Italian politics.

  19. 19.

    Berlusconi’s party.

  20. 20.

    The symbols that are referenced by Casa Pound are innovative connections with the imagery of piracy, using icons of cartoon characters familiar to young people who grew up from the 1970s onwards (Di Nunzio and Toscano 2011).

  21. 21.

    A special military corps of Black people in the Italian army.

  22. 22.

    That is, the Anglo-Americans.

  23. 23.

    Italian Resistance fighters during World War II.

  24. 24.

    At the time of the murder of the Senegalese, Pap Deaw declared: ‘We call on all political forcesto seek to reduce social tension and even to send a real message with the closure of Casa Pound in Italy, beginning in Tuscany.’

  25. 25.

    Diorama Letterario, 312.

  26. 26.

    Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944) described himself as ‘the philosopher of Fascism’. He ghostwrote A Doctrine of Fascism (1930) for his country’s prime minister, Benito Mussolini. Philosophically he drew from Kant, Hegel and Marx—system builders. Among his works are The Theory of Spirit as Pure Act (1916), Foundations of the Philosophy of Law (1916) and the Logic (1917).


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Campani, G. (2016). Neo-fascism from the Twentieth Century to the Third Millennium: The Case of Italy. In: Lazaridis, G., Campani, G., Benveniste, A. (eds) The Rise of the Far Right in Europe. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

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