Italian Social Movement

The Italian Social Movement (Italian: Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI), renamed in 1972 Italian Social Movement – National Right (Italian: Movimento Sociale Italiano – Destra Nazionale, MSI–DN), was a neo-fascist[7][8][9] and post-fascist political party in Italy.

Italian Social Movement

Movimento Sociale Italiano
LeadersGiorgio Almirante
Augusto De Marsanich
Arturo Michelini
Pino Rauti
Gianfranco Fini
Founded26 December 1946
Dissolved27 January 1995
Merger ofItalian Movement of Social Unity
Italian's Front[1]
Succeeded byNational Alliance (legal successor)
Tricolour Flame (split)
HeadquartersVia della Scrofa 43, Rome (last)
NewspaperSecolo d'Italia
Youth wingFronte della Gioventù (Youth Front)
Membership202,715 (1993)
240,063 (peak, 1963)[2]
Political positionRight-wing[3] to far-right[4][5][6]
European affiliationEuropean Social Movement (1951–62)
National Party of Europe (1962–66)
European Parliament groupNon-Inscrits (1979–84)
European Right (1984–89)
Non-Inscrits (1989–95)
Colours     Black

Formed in 1946 by supporters of the former dictator Benito Mussolini, most of whom took part in the experience of the Italian Social Republic and the Republican Fascist Party, the MSI became the fourth largest party in Italy by the early 1960s. The party gave informal local and eventually national support to the Christian Democrats from the late 1940s and through the 1950s, sharing anti-communist ideologies. In the early 1960s, the party was pushed to the sidelines of Italian politics, and only gradually started to gain some political recognition in the 1980s.

There was internal competition between the party's moderate and radical factions. The radicals led the party in its formative years under Giorgio Almirante, while the moderates gained control in the 1950s and 1960s. Almirante's return as leader in 1969 was characterised by bigger-tent strategy. Finally, in 1987, the reins of the party were taken by Gianfranco Fini, under whom it was transformed into National Alliance (AN) in 1995. On that occasion a small minority, led by Pino Rauti, disagreed with the new course and formed Tricolour Flame instead.


The MSI derived its name and ideals from the Italian Social Republic (RSI), established by Benito Mussolini in 1943 behind Nazi German lines.[10] The dominating party of the republic, Mussolini's Republican Fascist Party (PFR), inspired the creation of the MSI,[11] and the MSI has been seen as the successor to both the PFR as well as the original National Fascist Party (PNF).[12] The MSI was formed by former fascist leaders and veterans of the republic's fascist army.[13] The party nevertheless tried to modernise and revise fascist doctrine into a more moderate and sophisticated direction.[14] The MSI also drew from elements of the anti-communist and anti-system stance of the short-lived postwar populist Common Man's Front protest party, and many of its original backers would find a home in the MSI after its dissolution in 1949.[15][16]


Early years (1946–1954)

The MSI was formed on 26 December 1946 in Rome, by a group of former fascist veterans of the Italian Social Republic (RSI)—a "violent, socialising, and revolutionary republican" variant of fascism that had operated as a Nazi puppet state in northern Italy between 1943 and 1945.[16] Former RSI official Giorgio Almirante became the party's first leader. The three initial main goals of the party were to revive Mussolini's fascism, attack the Italian democracy and fight communism.[17][18][19] However, due to the anti-fascist consensus embodied by the post-war Italian constitution and agreements with the Allied forces, advocating a return to fascism had to be done discreetly.[17][16] Although the MSI adapted itself into the constraints of the democratic environment, its manifest ideology was clearly antagonistic and antithetical to liberal democracy,[19] and it was consequently excluded from the Arco costituzionale, the circles of parties deemed legitimate to govern, as were Communists after 1947.[16]

The MSI won financial support from wealthy businessmen and landowners due to their fears of a possible communist Italy,[17] from a domestic revolution or a takeover by Soviet forces. In the first general election of 1948, the party won seven deputies and one senator.[20] But the MSI soon witnessed growing internal conflicts between conservatives who sought involvement in NATO and political alliances with Monarchists and Christian Democrats, and hardliners who wanted the party to be anti-American and anti-establishment.[17][21] Almirante was replaced as leader of the MSI in 1950 due to his uncompromising anti-NATO position, and his position taken by conservative Augusto De Marsanich, under whose leadership the party won some strong electoral gains.[22][17]

Arturo Michelini (1954–1969)

Four years later, in 1954, De Marsanich was replaced by Arturo Michelini.[17] The conservative elements dominated the party in the 1950s and 1960s,[21] and it maintained a rather moderate course.[23] By the late 1950s, the MSI had become Italy's fourth largest party, and the Italian party system was unique in Europe in terms of having a continual and significant neo-fascist presence since the end of World War II.[17][23][24] Michelini established the strategy of inserimento (insertion) during his leadership of the party, meaning to gain acceptance through cooperation with other parties within the liberal democratic system.[25][16] Disgruntled by the MSI's focus on parliamentarism and attempts to establish an image of democratic respectability, the radicals of the party broke out and established several separate groups. Pino Rauti and others broke out in 1956 and founded the Ordine Nuovo party, while Stefano Delle Chiaie established the National Vanguard.[17][23]

In the wider context of the Cold War, anti-communism had replaced anti-fascism as the abiding principle of the Italian Republic,[16] and Christian Democrats started to accept the backing from the party (along with Monarchists and Liberals) to prop up their minority governments after the 1958 general election. Already in the late 1940s, the Christian Democrats, somewhat reluctantly, had discreetly accepted support from the MSI to keep the Communists out of the Rome city government.[26]

In March 1960, the MSI even became the sole backer of the Christian Democratic minority Tambroni Cabinet, which had enormous political implications.[27] Riots became commonplace between neo-fascist supporters and radical leftists.[17][23] Learning the National Congress of the MSI was about to be held in Genoa in July to celebrate the accomplishment of the inserimento strategy, militant anti-fascist protests erupted on June 30 in the city, due to leftist concerns over the party's growing role in Italian politics. Those rallies spread to other Italian cities over the next fortnight, resulting in violent and sometimes lethal clashes with the police. The government consequently banned the congress from taking place, and eventually resigned on July 27.[27] This event marked the failed end of the inserimento strategy, and the beginning of the long party's decline.[27][28] Following the victory of a centre-left government in 1963, the Christian Democrats no longer needed the parliamentary support of the MSI, and the party was definitively forced back into "political ghetto". Its main objective in the decades that followed thus became to get back into the political game.[29][16] The demise of the strategy is also deemed conducive to the radicalization of the violent splinter groups like Ordine Nuovo.[16]

Giorgio Almirante (1969–1987)

Michelini was the leader of the party until his death in 1969, when the party's first leader Almirante regained control. He attempted to revitalise the party by pursuing an aggressive policy against left-wing student uprisings;[17] the 1968 student movement had been devastating for the party's youth organisation.[27] Following Michelini's failed approach of inserimento, Almirante introduced a double strategy of hard anti-systemic discourse combined with the creation of a broader "National Right" (Destra Nazionale) coalition in 1972.[30] He broadened the party in both conservative and radical directions, as he initiated cooperation and eventual merger with the Monarchist National Party, reintegrated Rauti and other radicals into the party, and aimed to attract conservative figures from the Christian Democrats and the Liberals.[21][29][16] As Almirante declared in his report to the party's central committee in 1969: "We stand before two different paths: an alternative to the system or an alternative within the system".[31]

The party grew strongly in the early 1970s. Contesting the 1972 general election in a joint list with Monarchists,[21] the party almost doubled its support up to 8.7% of the votes, its highest score ever until 1994. It successfully capitalized on southern protests and its agenda of "law and order",[16] and the MSI claimed 420,000 members in 1973.[21] While supporting violent actions of young people and the revolts in the Mezzogiorno, the MSI kept in contact with some sectors of terrorismo nero ("black [right-wing] terrorism"). Those connections, in apparent contraction to the respectability sought by the party, damaged its public reputation.[16]

Its support consequently receded in the 1976 general election, and many conservatives pulled out from the party, leaving it with 279,000 members that year.[21] Frustrated in their aspiration in turning the MSI in a mainstream conservative party, moderates formed the National Democracy party in 1976, accusing Almirate of maintaining contacts with right-wing terrorism and of being unable to follow a concrete parliamentary strategy.[16] But although it took with it half the MSI parliamentary representation and nearly all of its public finance, the new party was dissolved in the aftermath of the next general election.[32]

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the second wave of right-wing terrorism in Italy led some MSI members to become radicalised, and some left the party to form new groups.[21] The MSI became gradually more tolerated by the mainstream parties, as its insistent denunciations of violence gained credibility. The political climate was also de-radicalized following a new wave of studies and "historicisation" of fascism, widely debated in the mass media, which also led the MSI to become less stigmatised than it had been previously. After becoming prime minister in 1983, Bettino Craxi of the Italian Socialist Party met with MSI leaders, and later his office issued a statement that expressed regret for the "ghettoisation" of the party. In 1984, high-level representatives of the Christian Democrats, the Liberals and the Democratic Socialists attended the party congress of the MSI for the first time. The next year, it was granted one position on the board of directors of the RAI, the state radio and television network.[33][34]

Gianfranco Fini (1987–1995)

Gianfranco Fini took over the party leadership from Almirante in 1987, as his anointed successor and favoured candidate by the party's old guard. However, following Almirante's death the next year, Fini was left without his protector. Fini was then viewed as a weak leader, unable to turn around the decline and isolation of the party, and he adopted provocative initiatives against the internal opposition.[24][35][36]

In 1990 Pino Rauti briefly gained the leadership of the party from Fini, but his revolutionary, anti-capitalist and leftist (yet loyal fascist) approach further alienated the party's supporters. As a result, Fini regained the leadership in 1991.[24][37]

Fini now sought to downplay the fascist origins of the MSI, further dividing the party into factions. He transformed the MSI into the more moderate National Alliance (AN), going farther than Almirante's 1970s "National Right" strategy. Fini was soon viewed as a skilful political operator and he gained the support of the party majority.[17][21][38][39][40] In the Tangentopoli scandals of the early 1990s, a pool of judges discovered a widespread system of corruption in all of the mainstream parties, and many key politicians were brought on trial. The scandals were devastating for the mainstream parties and resulted in their dissolutions. As the so-called "First Republic" collapsed, the MSI remained uninvolved in the scandals due to not having taken part in the Italian political life. Nevertheless, a radical transformation was required to break away from its fascist heritage.[41] At the same time, the end of the Cold War helped to de-radicalise Italian politics. The corruption scandals also led the political competition in Italy to become very personalised, and in 1993, Fini and Alessandra Mussolini surprisingly won unprecedented large support when running for mayor in Rome and Naples, respectively. Although they lost their elections, they each won about 45% of the vote.[42]

The AN project was launched in 1993, contested the 1994 general election, and in January 1995, the MSI was finally dissolved and replaced by AN.[43] Rauti and other radicals attempted to reconstitute the MSI as Tricolour Flame, but with only modest success. Fini in turn went on to lead AN to huge electoral gains, into the Pole of Good Government coalition with political newcomer Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party, and eventually into part of his governments.[17][21][44][45] The party's part in the 1994 government met strong criticism from several European politicians,[46][47] but did not manifest itself in any diplomatic implications.[48] In just a few years, Fini had turned the MSI from a position of stagnation to one of participation in a government coalition. Although long-term and other short-term factors were part of the new fortunes for the party, it could arguably hardly have happened without the effects of the Tangentopoli scandals.[38][44]


The MSI's political program was always vague, but its themes stressed traditional social values, law and order, and hostility towards social minorities and civil liberties. It advocated a centralised state with a presidential form of government, and no devolution of powers to regions.[10] The party pursued a dualistic policy, in which it combined anti-systemic discourse with a practical policy of electoral cooperation with the mainstream right.[25] Although it was for a long time preoccupied with the debate of fascism and anti-fascism, the party distanced itself from this in the early 1990s to rather focus on contemporary Italian issues.[42] While both wings of the party agreed after the 1950s that fascism was dead, they nevertheless saw some good things in fascism which they wanted to reinstitute.[49] When the party transformed itself into the AN, it outspokenly rejected fascism, as well as "any kind of totalitarianism and racism." In contrast to other far-right parties in Europe which increased their power in the late 1980s, the MSI chose to not campaign against immigration, because Italy was less concerned that other European countries.[42]

Internal factions

The MSI included a large variety of currents, which ranged from republicans to monarchists, Catholics to anti-clericals, conservative capitalists to radical anticapitalists, and revolutionaries to corporatists.[10] The party was mainly divided between the adherents of what Renzo De Felice called the "fascism-movement" and the "fascism-regime", roughly also corresponding to the party's "northern" and "southern" factions. The former "leftist"-tendency was more militant and radical, and claimed heritage from the socialistic and anti-bourgeois "republican" fascism of the Italian Social Republic and pre-1922 fascism. The latter drew more from the mainstream clerical, conservative, authoritarian, and bourgeois fascist tendency that prevailed after the stabilisation of the fascist regime.[50][51]

Most of the party's initial leaders were northern radicals, but most of its support was from voters in the South. In the North, the party elite to a large extent consisted of highly ideological veterans from the civil war. As the Italian Social Republic (RSI) had not existed in the South, and there thus had been no civil war, the southern MSI-supporters and notables were by contrast largely moderate-conservatives, less interested in ideology. When the conservatives gained power of the party in the 1950s, they steered it more towards the traditional clerical and monarchist right-wing.[52]

Foreign policy

The MSI took a strongly nationalistic approach in foreign policy, but was initially divided between "third force" and pro-NATO groups. It abstained when the parliament voted on Italy's admission into NATO in 1949, but later expressed support for NATO and the European Community, based on a "European nationalism" idea. The party supported Italy's inclusion in the European Monetary System in 1979, as well as the installation of American cruise missiles in Sicily in 1983.[10]

Unlike other post-fascist or far-right parties in Europe during its time, the MSI supported the State of Israel.[53][54][55]

International affiliation

From the end of the war to the late 1980s, the MSI was the chief reference point for the European far-right.[56] By the initiative of the MSI, the European Social Movement was established after conferences in Rome in 1950 and Malmö, Sweden, in 1951.[57] The conference in Malmö was attended by around one hundred delegates from French, British, German, Austrian, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, and Swedish neo-fascist groups, with some notable figures including Maurice Bardèche, Karl-Heinz Priester, Oswald Mosley, and Per Engdahl.[58][59] The MSI was also part of the New European Order, together with, among others, the Falange and the Socialist Reich Party. Due to the MSI's support for continued Italian control of South Tyrol, German-speaking delegates eventually left the NEO.[60] Growing divisions and external competition left both groups largely moribund by 1957.[61] At a conference in Venice in 1962, the National Party of Europe was formed by the MSI, the Union Movement, the Deutsche Reichspartei, Jeune Europe, and the Mouvement d'Action Civique.[62] The group was effectively defunct by 1966.[63]

In response to the development of "eurocommunism" in the mid-1970s, Almirante initiated the first conference of a "Euro-Right" in Rome in 1978. The meeting included the francoist New Force, France's Party of New Forces (PFN), and parties from Belgium, Portugal, and Greece. The parties were unable to gather enough support to establish a group in the European Parliament following the 1979 European election.[64] After the 1984 European election, the MSI was finally able to establish a European Right group, together with the French National Front (which had emerged victorious from its rivalry with the PFN) and the Greek National Political Union. However, following the 1989 European election, the MSI refused to join the new European Right group over the territorial dispute of South Tyrol, due to the arrival of The Republicans, a German party which supported South Tyrol claims made by the Freedom Party of South Tyrol. Neither The Republicans, nor the Belgian Vlaams Blok party, wanted to form a group with the MSI over this issue.[65][66][67] As the MSI transformed itself into AN, it distanced itself from increasingly powerful European far-right parties such as France's Front National and Austria's Freedom Party.[68]

The electoral support for the MSI fluctuated around 5 percent, with its supporting peaking in 1972 at almost 9 percent. The party's popular support came mostly from the southern underclass and the rural oligarchy until the 1960s, and later from the urban middle classes, especially in Rome, Naples, Bari, and the other cities of the Centre-South. Its supporters consisted demographically of old fascists, lower-middle-class shopkeepers, and artisans, as well as a number of bureaucrats, police, and military. Reasons to vote for the MSI included protest votes, nostalgia, and support for traditional values, as well as southern resentment of the North.[33][69] As the old fascist veterans started to fade away, the party in turn gained support from alienated youth groups.[70]

Although most of the party's initial leaders were radicals from the North, the party's electoral base was in the South.[71] In its first election, almost 70 percent of the party's votes came from regions south of Rome, and all of its elected parliamentary representatives came from southern constituencies. In the 1952 local elections, the MSI–Monarchist alliance won 11.8% of the votes in the South.[72] In 1972, when the MSI was at its peak, it won 14.8% in Lazio (17.4% in Rome and 21.0% in Latina), 16.7% in Campania (26.3% in Naples and 22.2% in Salerno), 12.5% in Apulia (21.0% in Lecce, 18.8% in Bari, and 18.4% in Foggia), 12.2% in Calabria (36.3% in Reggio Calabria), 15.9% in Sicily (30.6% in Catania, 24.4% in Messina, and 20.7% in Siracusa) and 11.3% in Sardinia (16.0% in Cagliari).[73]

By the beginning of the 1990s the MSI had strengthened its position, especially in Lazio, and, when the Christian Democrats disbanded in 1993–94, the MSI was able to attract many Christian Democratic voters in Central and Southern Italy, as well as many formerly Socialist votes, especially in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. In some places, such as Lazio, the MSI became the new dominant political force. At a time when Lega Nord was booming in the North, several voters south of the Po River liked the MSI's appeals to Italian identity and unity. In the 1996 general election, the first after the transformation of the MSI into AN, the Italian right-wing won its best result ever: 15.7% nationally, 28.9% in Lazio (where, with 31.3%, AN was the largest party in Rome), 19.8% in Umbria, 21.1% in Abruzzo, 20.0% in Campania, 23.5% in Basilicata, 22.1% in Apulia, 20.9% in Calabria, and 20.3% in Sardinia.[73][74]

The electoral results of MSI in general (Chamber of Deputies) and European Parliament elections since 1948 are shown in the chart below.

Election results

Italian Parliament

Chamber of Deputies
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1948 526,882 (7th) 2.0
6 / 574
1953 1,582,154 (5th) 5.8
29 / 590
1958 1,407,718 (4th) 4.8
24 / 596
1963 1,570,282 (6th) 5.1
27 / 630
1968 1,414,036 (6th) 4.5
24 / 630
1972 2,894,722 (4th) 8.7
56 / 630
1976 2,238,339 (4th) 6.1
32 / 630
1979 1,930,639 (4th) 5.3
30 / 630
1983 2,511,487 (4th) 6.8
42 / 630
1987 2,281,126 (4th) 5.9
35 / 630
1992 2,107,037 (6th) 5.4
34 / 630
Senate of the Republic
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1948 164,092 (8th) 0.7
1 / 237
1953 1,473,645 (5th) 6.1
9 / 237
1958 1,150,051 (5th) 4.4
8 / 246
1963 1,458,917 (6th) 5.3
14 / 315
1968 1,304,847 (5th) 4.6
11 / 315
1972 2,766,986 (4th) 9.2
26 / 315
1976 2,086,430 (4th) 6.6
15 / 315
1979 1,780,950 (4th) 5.7
13 / 315
1983 2,283,524 (4th) 7.4
18 / 315
1987 2,121,026 (4th) 6.5
16 / 315
1992 2,171,215 (6th) 6.5
16 / 315

European Parliament

European Parliament
Election year Votes % Seats +/− Leader
1979 1,909,055 (4th) 5.5
4 / 81
1984 2,274,556 (4th) 6.5
5 / 81
1989 1,918,650 (4th) 5.5
4 / 81




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