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The Transnational Reaction to 1968: Neo-fascist Fronts and Political Cultures in France and Italy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 May 2008

Department of French, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK;


A transnational analysis of neo-fascism in France and Italy can elucidate historical processes that are usually only analysed within a specific national context or deemed to be by-products of individual nation-states. This article highlights the crucial importance of 1968 in the development of neo-fascist electoral and political strategies in both countries, as well as in the rise of extremist cultural activism. It reveals similar reactions to the hegemony of the political left over popular and youth culture as well as a striking commonality of ideals. Through the examination of a relatively brief period (1968 to the end of the 1970s), this article attempts to demonstrate patterns of cross-fertilisation, ideological transfer and the prominence of the Movimento Sociale Italiano which strongly influenced the French neo-fascists in the establishment of the Front national. The importance, and the trans-border impact, of the Nouvelle Droite in the cultural milieu and its attempt to update neo-fascist and racist ideals is also highlighted.

La réaction transnationale à 1968: fronts néofascistes et cultures politiques en france et en italie

Une analyse transnationale du néofascisme en France et en Italie peut élucider des processus historiques qui ne sont normalement analysés que dans un contexte national spécifique ou jugés en tant que produits accompagnateurs de ces Etats-nations individuels. Cet article souligne l'importance cruciale de 1968 dans le développement de stratégies électorales et politiques néofascistes dans les deux pays, ainsi que dans la montée de l'activisme culturel extrémiste. Il révèle des réactions similaires à l'hégémonie de la gauche politique sur la culture populaire et de la jeunesse, ainsi qu'une forte standardisation des idéaux. A travers l'examen d'une période relativement brève (de 1968 à la fin des années 1970), cet article cherche à démontrer des modèles de croisement, de transfert idéologique et l'importance du Movimento Sociale Italiano, qui a fortement influencé les néofascistes français dans la création du Front National. L'importance et l'impact transfrontalier de la Nouvelle Droite dans le milieu culturel et sa tentative de mettre à jour les idéaux néofascistes et racistes sont aussi soulignés.

Die transnationale reaktion auf 1968: neofaschistische fronten und politische kulturen in frankreich und italien

Eine transnationale Analyse des Neofaschismus in Frankreich und Italien kann historische Prozesse erklären, die normalerweise nur in einem spezifischen nationalen Kontext analysiert werden oder als Randphänomene in einzelnen Nationalstaaten gelten. Dieser Artikel betont den Zäsurcharakter von 1968 in der Entwicklung neofaschistischer Strategien in der Politik allgemein und in Wahlkämpfen im besonderen und zeigt die wachsende Bedeutung eines radikalen Kulturaktivismus. Dabei zeigt er besonders, dass italienische und französische Neofaschisten ganz ähnlich auf die angebliche Hegemonie der politischen Linken in der Pop- und Jugendkultur reagierten und dass ihre Ideenwelt frappierende Ähnlichkeiten aufwiesen. Durch die Untersuchung einer relativ kurzen Zeitperiode (1968 bis Ende der siebziger Jahre), versucht dieser Artikel die transnationalen Beziehungen zwischen ‘Movimento Sociale Italiano’ und französischen Neofaschisten zu analysieren, welche die Gründung des Front National stark beeinflusst haben. Außerdem werden die Wichtigkeit und der transnationale Einfluss der französischen Neuen Rechten (‘Nouvelle Droite’) im kulturellen Milieu Italiens betont und ihr Versuch, die neofaschistischen und rassistischen Ideen zu aktualisieren, herausgearbeitet.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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3 It is not my intention to discuss here the terminology referring to parties belonging to the extreme right. I use ‘extreme’, ‘ultra-right’ and ‘neo-fascist’ as overlapping terms to classify these parties.

4 Referring to the history of neo-fascism, it is exactly in this period that we can observe a strong similarity of behaviour and strategy, along with the establishment of some important political and cultural networks.

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11 Marcello, Veneziani, a rightist intellectual, argues that some students believed that 1968 would have modernised the MSI. See Marcello Veneziani, 68 pensieri sul ‘68. Un trentennio di Sessantottite visto da destra (Florence: Loggia De'Lanzi, 1998), 37Google Scholar.

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14 Arturo, Michelini, ‘Per non svegliarsi in un Italia comunista’, Politica, 1, 1 (1968), 23Google Scholar, in Archivio Fondazione Ugo Spirito (AFUS), Fondo Mario Cassiano (MC), Serie 2, Sottoserie 2, UA 51, ‘Materiale di propaganda a stampa, 1948–1980’.

15 Rao, La Fiamma, 124.

16 ‘Una carnevalata che è durata anche troppo’, Il Secolo d'Italia, 25 February 1968, 1.

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19 ‘Dura lezione ai sovversivi durante tre ore di scontri’, Il Secolo d'Italia 17 March 1968, 1.

20 ‘Basta con gli stracci rossi. Il tricolore all'università’, ibid.

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25 Mai 1968 also had a vast echo in neo-fascist Italy. Domestic neo-fascists feared the imminent propagation of similar events in their own country. In the second half of May, the rightist newspaper Il Tempo promoted the Comitato dei Padri (Fathers Committee) to restore some ‘irreplaceable moral values’ and support anti-1968 forces. Similarly Il Borghese tried to mobilise its readers towards anti-communist unity. Gasparetti, Alessandro, La destra e il ‘68 (Rome: Settimo Sigillo, 2007), 157–9Google Scholar.

26 On this movement see also Frédéric, Charpier, Génération Occident (Paris: Seuil, 2005)Google Scholar.

27 One of the main assaults against the gauchistes took place in Paris on 21 April 1968, when a group of Occident militants attacked the general assembly of the Union Nationale des Etudiants de France (National Union of French Students). Occident's slogan referring to leftist occupations became ‘Liberons la Sorbonne’.

28 Bale, Jeffrey M., ‘“National Revolutionary” Groupuscules and the Resurgence of “Left-Wing” Fascism: The Case of France's Nouvelle Résistance’, Patterns of Prejudice, 36, 3 (2002), 29CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

29 Jean-Christian, Petitfils, L'extrême droite en France (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1983), 99Google Scholar.

30 Richard, Vinen, France, 1934–1970 (London: Macmillan, 1996), 189Google Scholar.

31 For François Duprat, the extreme right-wing groups were even completely ‘inexistent’ during Mai 1968. See Duprat quoted in Ariane Chebel d'Appollonia, L'extrême-droite en France. De Maurras à Le Pen (Bruxelles: Editions Complexe, 1988), 314.

32 François, Duprat, Les Mouvements d'extrême-droite en France depuis 1944 (Paris: Albatros, 1972), 158–9Google Scholar.

33 At any rate, it is worth noting that de Gaulle pardoned people like Salan, less because he wished to unify the political right than because it was part of the bargain he struck when he flew in secret to West Germany on 29 May 1968 to discuss with General Massu his willingness to deploy in France the French troops stationed in West Germany. Massu agreed to deploy military force, if needed, to buttress the Gaullist regime. The condition was that his old putchist and OAS friends were liberated.

34 The neo-fascist press in Italy was impressed by De Gaulle's ‘anti-communist’ mobilisation and hence re-established a strong fascination with the image of the general. Gasparetti, La destra, 155.

35 François, Duprat, Les journées de Mai 68. Les dessous d'une révolution (Paris: Nouvelles Editions Latines, 1968), 160Google Scholar.

36 Rémond, Right Wing in France, 413.

37 Vinen, France, 173–4. Similarly, Jean-Pierre Rioux argues that a major predicament for the right-wing extremists was the need to fight against De Gaulle's appeal to the whole universe of the nationalist right. Rioux, Jean-Pierre, ‘Des clandestines aux activistes (1945–1965)’, in Winock, Michel, ed., Histoire de l'extrême droite en France (Paris: Seuil, 1993), 239Google Scholar.

38 Vinen, France, 190.

39 Duprat, Les journées de Mai 68, 161.

40 Ignazi, P., Il polo escluso. Profilo del Movimento sociale italiano (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1998), 136Google Scholar.

41 Following those programmatic lines, the party then moved to the Destra Nazionale. See also Almirante, Giorgio, ‘La Destra vince. La DC spalle al muro’, Italia Tricolore (interview with Mario Tedeschi), 3 (1971), 11Google Scholar.

42 This is quite a controversial point considering that, especially in the early stages, street violence was especially related to neo-fascist acts. For a neo-fascist account of communist violence see, e.g., MSI, Federazione Provinciale di Ancora, ‘Relazione sulla violenza di sinistra in Ancona’, No. 00567/GV/za, 12 January 1972, in AFUS, Fondo Movimento Sociale Italiano (thereafter MSI), Serie 3, B. 59.

43 Roger, Eatwell, Fascism: A History (New York: Pimlico, 2003), 260–5Google Scholar.

44 On the legacy of the armistice see Andrea Mammone, ‘Gli orfani del duce. Fascisti dal 1943 al 1946’, Italia contemporanea, 239–40, 2 (2005), 250–9 (also available at

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47 See for instance Murdaca's letter to Almirante stating his accession to DN in the anti-communist fight, in Archivio ‘68, Biblioteca U. Balestrazzi (Parma), Busta 3: Il linguaggio dei volantini, fascicolo 2.

48 The MSI's success after 1968 was not an isolated case. In Germany between 1966 and 1968, the failure of the Great Coalition led to the rise of the neo-Nazi Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (National Democratic Party of Germany) in local elections, and contributed to its best ever-result (4.3 per cent of the vote) in the 1969 federal election.

49 The result fell short of neo-fascist expectations (15 per cent of the vote).

50 Franco, Ferraresi, Threats to Democracy. The Radical Right in Italy after the War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 86Google Scholar.

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52 The MSI MP Ernesto De Marzio claimed that the new regionalist ‘fragmentation’ was to be the ‘communist way to gain power’. Ernesto De Marzio, ‘La battaglia del M.S.I. contro la disgregazione della Nazione’, in AFUS, MC, Serie 2, Sottoserie 2, B. 51.

53 Neo-fascists strongly criticised the government's intervention in the revolt (especially after the arrest of Ciccio Franco). See Giuseppe, Niccolai, ‘Reggio Calabria’, Il Machiavelli, 17, 7 (1970), 1Google Scholar.

54 ‘Dalla Calabria tradita la protesta del Mezzogiorno’, 128, in AFUS, MSI, Serie 1, Sottoserie 1, UA 13, ‘X Congresso nazionale, Roma 18–21 gennaio 1973’.

55 It gained roughly 14 per cent of the vote in the 1971 regional elections.

56 Rivarol, a French neo-fascist periodical, had a long and positive essay based on the official birth of the DN. See A. Marchigiani, ‘Chronique italienne: 10e Congrès du MSI: la Droite nationale est née’, Rivarol, 1 Feb. 1973, 11.

57 See Andrea, Mammone, ‘The Black-Shirt Resistance: Clandestine Fascism in Italy. 1943–1950’, Italianist, 27, 2 (2007), 282303Google Scholar.

58 It is not the intention of this article to analyse this phenomenon in depth, as it does not appear to be genuinely ‘transnational’.

59 Paul, Hainsworth, ‘The Front National: from ascendancy to fragmentation on the French extreme right’, in Hainsworth, , ed., The Politics of the Extreme Right. From the Margins to the Mainstream (London: Pinter, 2000), 19Google Scholar.

60 Leonard, Weinberg and William, Lee Eubank, ‘Neo-Fascist and Far Left Terrorists in Italy: Some Bibliographical Observations’, British Journal of Political Science, 18, 4 (1988), 536Google Scholar.

61 See Donatella, della Porta and Maurizio, Rossi, Cifre crudeli: bilancio dei terrorismi italiani (Bologna: Istituto Cattaneo, 1984)Google Scholar.

62 On the strategy of tension and neo-fascism see Anna, Cento Bull, Italian Neo-Fascism. The Strategy of Tension and the Politics of Non-Reconciliation (Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2007)Google Scholar; and Caprara, Mario and Semprini, Gianluca, Destra estrema e criminale (Rome: Newton Compton, 2007)Google Scholar.

63 Valerie, Igounet, Histoire du négationnisme en France (Paris: Seuil, 2000) 161–2Google Scholar.

64 Fiammetta, Venner, Extrême France. Les mouvements frontistes, nationaux-radicaux, royalistes, catholiques traditionalistes et provie (Paris: Grasset, 2006), 38Google Scholar.

65 Duprat, a young historian, anti-Zionist and a prominent historiographical revisionist, quickly became the most influential ON ideologue. A former member of movements such as Jeune Nation and Occident, his was a fine intellectual mind influenced by the doctrines of Evola and Leon Degrelle.

66 On this see ‘Les dangers de l'immigration sauvage’, Rivarol, 5 Oct. 1972, 2.

67 Pour un Ordre Nouveau (1972), quoted in Declair, Edward, Politics on the Fringe. The People, Policies, and Organisation of the French National Front (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1999), 30–1Google Scholar.

68 François Solchaga, ‘Nouvelles du “Front”’, Rivarol, 18 May 1972, 4.

69 Talking about future developments in French society and politics, Duprat once said that ‘Italy of 1972 is France of 1975’. Duprat in A. Parrot, ‘Le 22 mars d'Ordre Nouveau’, Rivarol, 30 March 1972, 5.

70 Eatwell, Fascism, 315.

71 ON's anti-system values continued to play an important role after the party's decision to contest elections. On its pro-violence attitude see Dély, Renaud, Histoire secrète du Front National (Paris: Grasset, 1999), 54Google Scholar.

72 Duprat in Parrot, ‘Le 22 mars’, 5.

73 François Solchaga, ‘Nouvelles du “Front”’, Rivarol, 23 Dec. 1971, 4.

74 The neo-fascist press was also fundamental in the birth of neo-fascism in Italy. On this see Ugo, Di Meglio, ‘Il ruolo della stampa nella nascita del MSI’, Rivista di Studi Corporativi, 11, 5–6 (1981), 219–36Google Scholar.

75 See François Solchaga, ‘Nouvelles du “Front”’, Rivarol, 12 Oct. 1972, 6. This unitary tactic can also be perceived, at least partially, as a response to the two-round majority system which forced small groups to federate into major mass parties. Fieschi, Catherine, Fascism, Populism and the French Fifth Republic: In the Shadow of Democracy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 159–60Google Scholar. Moreover, in 1972 the Socialists and the Communist Party elaborated a common programme in order to achieve political power.

76 Mammone, ‘Gli orfani del duce’, 272.

77 A week before the founding of the FN, 30,000 leaflets with a tricolour flame and the slogan ‘Front National – Avec nous avant qu'il ne soit trop tard’ (National Front – With Us before It Is Too Late) were distributed around France. See ‘Conseil national d'”Ordre Nouveau”’, Rivarol, 5 Oct. 1972, 4.

78 ‘Jean-Marie Le Pen chez les intellectuels indépendants’, Rivarol, 18 Jan. 1973, 4.

79 The only interesting innovation was a call for a reduction of the state's presence in the economy, and for the defence of private property and free enterprise. Scrutator, ‘Le Front National’, Rivarol, 25 Jan. 1973, 6–7.

80 Jean-Marie Le Pen, ‘Pour une candidature nationale’, Minute, 11–17 Oct. 1972, 20.

81 Fysh, Peter and Wolfreys, Jim, The Politics of Racism in France (London and New York: Palgrave, 2003), 112Google Scholar.

82 This exposure provoked a media campaign against the ND, and, to a certain extent, represented the beginning of its decline.

83 See Valla, Jean-Claude, ‘Pour une renaissance culturelle’, in GRECE, Dix ans de combat culturel pour une renaissance (Paris: GRECE, 1977), 5960Google Scholar.

84 Alain de Benoist in Adler, Frank, ‘On the French Right – New and Old: An Interview with Alain de Benoist’, Telos, 126 (2003), 113Google Scholar.

85 This specific use of Gramsci was historically decontextualised and deprived of its Marxist revolutionary connotations. The struggle for hegemony was, in a Gramscian sense, essentially a class struggle. See Guido Liguori, ‘Sinistra, perché non capisci più Antonio Gramsci?’, Liberazione, 11 May 2007, 3.

86 On the importance of Evola see Milza, Pierre, ‘Julius Evola et la “Nouvelle Droite” française’, in Decleva, Enrico and Milza, Pierre, Italia e Francia: i nazionalismi a contronto (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1993), 317–25;Google Scholar and Griffin, Roger, ‘Between Metapolitics and Apoliteia: The Nouvelle Droite's Strategy for Conserving the Fascist Vision in the “Interregnum”’, Modern and Contemporary France, 8, 1 (2000), 3845CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

87 Benoist, A. de, ‘Pour un “gramscisme de droite”’, Éléments, 20 (1977), 7Google Scholar.

88 On this point see Adler, F., ‘On the French Right’, 114; and Marco Tarchi in ‘The Italian “Nuova Destra”: An Interview with Marco Tarchi’, Perspectives, 3 (1991–1992), 23Google Scholar.

89 de Benoist, Alain, ‘Une droite qui soit à la fois et la droite et la gauche’, Éléments, 24–25 (1977–1978), 2Google Scholar.

90 Dirksen, F., ‘Ni Washington, ni Moscou’, Éléments, 26 (1978), 24Google Scholar.

91 Tamir, Bar-On, Where Have All the Fascists Gone? (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 58Google Scholar.

92 See Alain, de Benoist, Vue de droite. Anthologie critique des idées contemporaines (Paris: Copernic, 1978), 323–37, and 342–65Google Scholar.

93 See Alain, de Benoist, Europe, Tiers Monde, même combat (Paris: Laffont, 1986)Google Scholar; and also Anne-Marie, Duranton-Cabrol, ‘La “Nouvelle Droite” entre printemps et automne. 1968–1986’, Vingtième Siècle, 17 (1988), 42–3Google Scholar.

94 See Jean-Claude, Valla, ‘Le problème de l'avortment’, Nouvelle Ecole, 10 (1969), 918Google Scholar.

95 On this see also Alberto, Spektorowski, ‘The French New Right: Differentialism and the Idea of Ethnophilian Exclusionism’, Polity, 33, 2 (2000), 285, n. 4Google Scholar; and Tamir, Bar-On, ‘The Ambiguities of the Nouvelle Droite, 1968–1999’, European Legacy, 6, 3 (2001), 337Google Scholar.

96 On the rightist extremist roots of the ND see Roger, Griffin, ‘Plus ça change! The Fascist Pedigree of the Nouvelle Droite’, in Edward, Arnold, ed., The Development of the Radical Right in France 1890–1995 (London: Routledge, 2000), 217–52Google Scholar.

97 Spektorowski, ‘French New Right’, 292.

98 Jean-Claude, Valla, ‘Une communauté de travail et de pensée’, in Pierre, Vial, ed., Pour une renaissance culturelle: Le G.R.E.C.E. prend la parole (Paris: Éditions Copernic, 1979), 34Google Scholar. On the importance of the Celtic world opposed to the ‘sick’ contemporary West see Lance, P., ‘Les occidentaux maladies de la peste’, Nouvelle Ecole, 10 (1969), 5562Google Scholar.

99 Robert, de Herte, ‘Eglise: la fine du compromis’, Éléments, 17–18 (1976), 2Google Scholar.

100 See Armando, Plebe, Il libretto della Destra (Rome: Il Borghese, 1972), 4562Google Scholar. Setting aside Almirante's efforts, the DN doctrine was also elaborated through these two pamphlets: Mario Tedeschi, Destra Nazionale. Sintensi di una politica nuova, and Armando Plebe, Il libretto della Destra.

101 Plebe, Il libretto, 80–94.

102 Marchigiani, ‘Chronique italienne: 10e Congrès du M.S.I.’, 11.

103 Piero, Ignazi, ‘La cultura politica del Movimento Sociale Italiano’, Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica, 19, 3 (1989), 441Google Scholar.

104 C.N., ‘Chronique italienne: “La Destra”', Rivarol, 27 Jan. 1972, 13.

105 Adriano Romualdi, son of the MSI leader Pino Romualdi, tragically died in a car accident. He was a bright intellectual influenced by Evola's thinking.

106 A. Marchigiani, ‘Chronique italienne: 10e Congrès du M.S.I.: la Droite nazionale est née’, Rivarol, 1 Feb.197311

107 Volpe also created the Fondazione Gioacchino Volpe, which was very active in the promotion of conferences and seminars on political-historical topics. Francesco, Germinario, Da Salò al governo. Immaginario e cultura politica della destra italiana (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2005), 69Google Scholar.

108 Ibid., 69–72.

109 See Marco, Tarchi, ‘Ipotesi e strategia di una nuova destra’, in AA.VV., Proviamola nuova. Atti del seminario ‘Ipotesi e strategia di una nuova destra’ (Rome: L.E.D.E., 1980), 114Google Scholar.

110 Tarchi is now a highly respected political scientist at the University of Florence, with no current links to the extreme right. Nonetheless, he edits some journals which seem to be close to the French ND. Indeed, de Benoist frequently appears in them.

111 Franco Sacchi, ‘The Italian New Right’, Telos, special double issue on ‘The French New Right: New Right–New Left–New Paradigm?’, 98–99 (1993–4), 73.

112 Yet Bar-On argues that the ‘generational difference also led to a divergence between the Nuova Destra and French nouvelle droite, heirs of an older post-war, post-colonial generation of political memories and distinct national experience’. Bar-On, Where Have All the Fascists Gone?, 145.

113 Buontempo, quoted in Nicola, Rao, Neofascisti! La Destra italiana da Salò a Fiuggi nel ricordo dei protagonisti (Rome: Settimo Sigillo, 1999), 125Google Scholar. This opinion seems to be shared by Adalberto Baldoni, another youth leader, in many of his writings, and by Gianfranco Fini, the influential leader of the Alleanza Nazionale (the main party with its origins in the old MFI). See Andrea Garibaldi, ‘Fini: la destra non capi il ‘68’, Corriere della Sera, 3 February 2008, 5.

114 Vinen, France, 189.

115 See, e.g., Adriano, Romualdi, ‘Contestazione controluce’, Ordine Nuovo, new series, 1 (1970), 1828Google Scholar; Maurice Bardèche, ‘Introduction’, and ‘Post-Face’, in Duprat, Les journées, 7–16 and 181–202. Evola has not been included in the previous sections on ‘culture’, since he has not ‘reacted’ against 1968, neither has he developed a new or alternative doctrine (in the sense developed in this current article). He has merely criticised this leftist year (in particular accusing Herbert Marcuse's sociology of being affected by a ‘rough Freudianism’ and ‘banality’). See Julius Evola, ‘La vera “contestazione” è a Destra: L'uomo di vetta’ (interview with Gianfranco de Turris), Il Conciliatore, 1 (15 Jan. 1970), 16–9.

116 As the Destra Nazionale simply suggested a revival of fascist origins (e.g. ‘back to the future’) – and the resurgence of an outdated society already rejected by the younger generation – the ND and its ‘differentialism’ merely represented a more acceptable mask for neo-fascist ideas and racism in mainstream society and bourgeois media circles, and a response to the failure of liberal political elites to face multi-culturalism and decolonisation.

117 Nevertheless, in an earlier phase Le Pen's party was also unable to interiorise the ND's themes.

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