Exiting Violence or Substituting for it ? The Consequences of the Institutionalisation of Alleanza Nazionale (Italy) on Young Neofascist Activists
The starting point of the study is that the main Italian neo-fascist party (Alleanza Nazionale) has evolved in the space of a few years from political marginalisation to full participation in the exercise of power (till 1994), on the initiative of its leader Gianfranco Fini and with the help of Silvio Berlusconi. I uphold the hypothesis that such an institutionalisation process and the transformation from a neo- to a post-fascist organisation have necessarily implied some identity dissonances among its members socialised and politically trained in a culture of violence. All the more since young activists are concerned. The main question for the young (15-30 years old) Alleanza Nazionale militants was therefore to handle the passage from violent action till the end of the 1980’s (even after the so-called “Years of Lead”) – ranging from terrorism to violent confrontation with political opponents, a highly hierarchical vision of social relations, a nationalist ideology and the promotion of aggressive modes of action – to a strategy of conquest and exercise of power. How could young activists, who belonged to a socialised political organization and shared a culture of violence, give up such time-honoured and deeply-rooted practices? What were the alternative derivatives they could turn to, substituting for physical violence which had for long been regarded as the norm? The consequence of such an evolution is all the more important as younger members, who shared this common culture, were traditionally exhorted by the “elders” to perpetuate the memory of the group, of its heroes and fallen martyrs, to guarantee the origins’ “purity”. They have not all been able to compensate for or justify this new identity matrix, on account of their position in the socio-generational hierarchy of the party and in spite of early political careers. Adapting to such changes with a view to acquiring greater political respectability has necessarily led to adopting new strategies in order to twist, alter and overthrow a culture imbued with physical violence. Sociological research work on political violence has mainly focussed on the concept of relative frustration developed by Ted Gurr, or the mobilisation of resources theory. In this communication, I have chosen to adopt a different perspective and focus on the culture of activist groups, an approach partly inspired by research in the field of cultural anthropology (C.Geertz). This approach makes it possible not only to address the question of violent action as a reference, as a mode of justification and as the modus operandi of an activist organization, but also to deal with the consequences that the relinquishing of these references may have had on the militants and their political engagement – socialisation, ideological corpus, careers. The objective is indeed to propose a comprehensive explanation of the reasons and mechanisms of the “disuse” of violence, of its obsolescence, rather than study the mechanisms and reasons for the recourse to violence. More precisely, I compare several individual examples of young Alleanza Nazionale militants. By this way, I shed light on the modalities of the passage to a culture of non-violence and on the consequences that such an apparent de-radicalisation process (macro-level) may have had on the organization (meso-level) and on individual cases study (micro-level). The analysis of the narrative as constructed by the members of the AN youth organization reveals that in spite of the relative pacification of political struggle from the mid-1980s onwards, the collective memory of past acts of violence has significantly contributed to sustaining the fighting spirit of the young neo-fascists and socialising the new recruits within an activist culture promoted by some players intent on preserving its “movementist” dimension. Whether they have been used by or imposed on the members of the party or of the groups defended by the party, the modes of violent action are essential references in the culture of the AN youth organization. Obliged as they have been to tone down their activism, they have engaged in alternative forms of political struggle. The communication is based on the comparative analysis of data collected for a doctoral thesis on the engagement of young activists within the main right wing parties of Italy, Forza Italia, Alleanza Nazionale and Lega Nord. The corpus comprises 89 semi-directive interviews (39 with FI, 30 with AN and 30 with LN members) conducted between the end of 2001 and the end of 2002. Data were collected in two politically different regions, Venetia (dominated by Christian Democrats till 1990’s) and Emilia-Romagna (dominated by the Communist Party from 1948), from ordinary militants, provincial or regional leaders and young elected representatives. Data incorporate various propaganda documents (programmes, fanzines, leaflets, websites, songs …) collected from the early 2000s onwards, either directly or remotely.