Disappearance of the fireflies


by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Originally published as ‘Il vuoto del potere in Italia’ (The Power Void in Italy) in ‘Corriere della sera’, 1 February 1975. Translated by Christopher Mott.

“The distinction between adjective and substantive fascism goes back to nothing less than the newspaper il Politecnico, in other words, directly after the war”. Thus begins Franco Fortini’s work on fascism (l’Europeo, 26-12-1974), a writing based on principles that I fully and completely subscribe to. I cannot, however, agree with his tendentious beginning. Indeed, the distinction between the “fascisms” made in il Politecnico is neither pertinent nor current. It was still valid up until some ten years ago, when the Christian-Democrat regime was the pure and simple extension of the fascist regime.

However, ten or so years ago, an “event” occurred. It was something that did not exist, nor was it foreseeable, not only in the Politecnico era, but even up to a year before the thing happened, or in fact, as we shall see, while the thing was happening.

The true confrontation between the two fascisms cannot therefore chronologically be the fascist fascism in the form of Christian-Democrat fascism, but the confrontation between fascist fascism with a fascism that was born of this event, a totally, radically and unforeseeably new type of fascism that occurred some ten years ago.

Since I am a writer and I get involved in controversy, or at least in discussions with other writers, allow me to provide a poetic-literary definition of this phenomena that occurred in Italy during that time. This will serve to simplify and shorten our sunject, and probably to better understand it.

At the beginning of the sixties, the fireflies began to disappear in our nation, due to pollution of the air, and the azure rivers and limpid canals, above all in the countryside. This was a stunning and searing phenomena. There were no fireflies left after a few years. Today this is a somewhat poignant recollection of the past—a man of that time with such a souvenir cannot be young among the young of today and can therefore not have the wonderful regrets of those times.

The event that occurred some ten years ago we shall now call the “disappearance of the fireflies”.

The Christian-Democrat regime passed through two completely different phases that not only cannot be set off against each other—which would imply a certain degree of continuity between them—but which also have become flatly immeasurable, from an historic viewpoint.

The first phase of this regime, which the radicals have always rightly called it, is the phase beginning with the end of the war and extending to the extinction of the fireflies. The second goes from the extinction of the fireflies to the present day. We shall discuss them in order.

Before the extinction of the fireflies.
Christian-Democrat fascism is a total and absolute extension of fascist fascism. I will not deal with certain subjects which were discussed at the time, perhaps in Politecnico. They include the lost opportunity for purification, the continuation of the codes [1], police brutality and disregard for the constitution. In addition, I will stop at that event that subsequently passed for a retrospective historical conscience, which was that the democracy that anti-fascist Christian-Democrats put forth in opposition to the fascist dictatorship was unabashedly categorical.

It was based on an absolute majority of votes obtained from wide strata of the middle classes and huge masses of the peasantry, oriented by the Vatican. This participation by the Vatican could only be possible if it was based on a totally repressive regime. In this type of world, the “values” that counted were those upheld by fascism, meaning Church, family, country, obedience, discipline, order, saving and morality. These values, as under fascism, were “genuine”, in other words they formed part of the specific and concrete cultures that were the basis of the ancient agricultural and palaeo-industrial traditions in Italy. However, from the moment they were elevated to the status of national “values”, they lost all reality, becoming atrocious, stupid and repressive State conformity characteristics, the conformity of fascist and Christian-Democrat power. We are not speaking of provincialism, of the vulgarity and ignorance of the élites [2] who, on a level different from the masses, were the same throughout fascism and the initial phase of the Christian-Democrat regime. The paradigm of this ignorance was the pragmatism and the formalism of the Vatican.

All this seems clear and uncontestable today because intellectuals and the opposition of the period cherished ridiculous illusions. They hoped that all that they were seeing was not completely true and that true democracy really counted for something.

Before moving to the second phase, I must devote a paragraph to the transition.

While the fireflies were disappearing.
During this period, the distinction between fascism and the Politecnico fascism was still in effect. Neither the large country that was forming within the nation, that is, the peasant and working class masses being organized by the PCI (Italian Communist Party) nor the most advanced and critical intellectuals saw that the fireflies were becoming extinct. They understood sociology quite well—which during those years had caused a crisis in the Marxist analytical method—but their understanding was not yet tested by life experience and was essentially theoretical. No one could perceive what historical reality concerning the immediate future was evolving, nor link what was then called well-being with the development concept which was to bring about for the first time fully in Italy the ‘genocide’ described by Marx in his Manifesto.

After the extinction of the fireflies.
The nationalized and therefore falsified “values” of the old agricultural-based and palaeo-capitalistic world suddenly were no longer important. Church, country, family, obedience, order, savings, morality, none of it was important any more. They didn’t even survive in the form of false values. They remained within the reduced clerical-fascism order and even the M.S.I. repudiated them. “Values” for a new type of civilization replaced them, which were completely apart from the peasant and palaeo-industrial society. This phenomena had already been experienced by other countries. However, in Italy, it was completely unique because it involved the first true unification of our country. In other countries this unification was superimposed logically over monarchic or bourgeois and industrial revolution-imposed unifications. Perhaps the only precedent to the Italian trauma produced by the clash between pluralist archaism and industrial equalization was pre-Hitler Germany. In that country also, the values of different specific cultures were destroyed by the violent recognition process of industrialization, with the consequence of producing those gigantic hordes who had neither the ancient peasant or artisan roots or not even a modern bourgeois background, and who made up the savage, abnormal and unpredictable bodies of Nazi troops.

Something similar is now occurring in Italy, with even greater violence in that the industrialization of the sixties and seventies was also a decisive mutation compared to that in Germany fifty years ago. As we all know, we are not now facing a new age, but rather a new era of human history, with human history seen in periods of one thousand years. The Italian people could not have behaved worse than they did in confronting this historic trauma. Over a period of several years they have become, especially in the Center-South, a degenerate, ridiculous, monstrous and criminal population – one need only go into the street to understand this. Of course, in order to understand the changes in people, you have understand the people themselves. To my detriment, I liked them, the Italian population, both outside of the power systems—in fact in desperate opposition to them—and outside of populist and humanitarian systems. I felt real love for them, rooted in my personality. I could see with my “senses” how the power of a consumption-based society modeled and deformed the conscience of the Italian people, finally arriving at an irreversible degradation. This was something that did not occur in the fascist fascism period, during which individual behavior was totally disassociated from the conscience. The totalitarian power repeated incessantly its injunctions on behavior modification in vain, since the conscience no longer entered into play. The fascist models were only masks that were donned and removed in turn. When the fascist fascism movement fell, everything returned to its previous order. This occurred also in Portugal. After forty years of fascism, the Portuguese celebrate D the 1st of May as if the last one celebrated was the preceding one.

As such it is ridiculous for Fortini to backdate the distinction between fascism and the fascism prevalent to directly after the war. The distinction between fascist fascism and the fascism of the second phase of the Christian-Democrat regime has no grounds for comparison in our history, and not only in our history but probably in all history.

I do not write this article to debate this subject, even though it is one very near to me. I write for a very different reason, which I will now outline.

All my readers will certainly have observed change in Christian-Democrat officials. Over several months they have become funereal. It is true that they continue to dispense radiant smiles of an incredible sincerity. Their eyes exude an honest, blissful spark of good will, when they aren’t betraying a mocking, spirited cunning. This, apparently, pleases voters as much as genuine good will. Furthermore, our officials continue imperturbably to release incomprehensible verbiage into the atmosphere, or float the flatus vocis of their habitual stereotyped promises.

In reality, all these things actually are masks. I am sure that, if they were removed we wouldn’t even see a heap of bones and ashes. There would be nothing, just emptiness. The reason for this is simple because in Italy today, there is a dramatic power void. However, the important thing is that the void is not of a legislative or executive nature, it is not a void in the power of governing or even in political power of any traditional description. It is a power void in itself.

How did this void come about? Or rather, “How is it that the people in power came to this?”

The explanation for this is also simple. The Christian-Democrat power base went from the “fireflies” stage to the “fireflies extinction” phase” without realizing it. However quasi-criminal this may appear, their unconsciousness in this matter was based on one absolute issue, which was that they had no inkling that the power that they held and exercised did not follow a normal pattern of evolution but rather was undergoing a radical change of form.

They were deceived into thinking that in their regime nothing would really changed and that, for example, they would always be able to rely on the Vatican’s support. They didn’t realize that the power they continued to exercise had no further use for the Vatican, which was a center of the poor, backward peasantry. They had the illusion that they would always be able to count on a nationalist army, just as their fascist predecessors did. They did not see that the power that they continued to exercise was already maneuvering to establish the basis for new transnational armies, almost like a technocratic police force. The same can be said with regard to the family, which was relegated to saving and upholding morality and which had no means of maintaining these traditions during the transition from fascism. Today the power of the consumer society has imposed radical changes on this institution, with the acceptance of divorce and now potentially anything else without limit, or at least within the limits allowed by the the permissiveness of the new power scheme, which is more totalitarian because it is violently aggregate.

Christian-Democrat politicians accepted all this, all the while believing that they were administrating it. They did not realize that it amounted to “something else” that was not only immeasurable with respect to themselves but also with all forms of civilization. As always (see. Gramsci), the only symptoms of this occurred in language. During the transition phase – meaning, the “extinction of the fireflies” – Christian-Democrat rulers changed their way of communicating almost abruptly, adopting a completely new language that was as incomprehensible as Latin. This was especially true of Aldo Moro. Through a puzzling correlation, the one who seems to be the least involved of all in the horrible acts perpetuated between 1969 to the present, whose purpose was to retain power at all costs. Up to now, this goal has been formally achieved.

I say ‘formally’ because, and I repeat, in reality, Christian-Democrat officials are keeping the void hidden behind their smiles and automated movements. The real power works without them and they hold in their hands only a useless apparatus. The only real thing about them are their mournful three-piece suits.

Nonetheless, in history the void cannot remain in existence. The only way to assert it is in the abstract or reasoning on the basis of absurdity. It is likely that the void that I speak of is already being filled by a crisis or an event that cannot avoid ravaging the entire country. The morbid expectation of a coup d’état is a hint of this. As if it amounted only to replacing a group of people that have governed us terribly for thirty years, bringing Italy to economic, ecological, urban and anthropological disaster! In reality, the false replacement of these “pig-headed people” by other “pig-headed people”—who will be not less, but more lugubriously carnavalesque—brought on by the artificial reinforcement of the old fascist apparatus, would do nothing. Should this occur, it is clear that the “troupe” would be Nazi, virtually be its composition. The real power, which for ten years the “pig-headed people” have exercised without comprehending reality, that is something that could already have filled the void. This would also render useless the possible participation in the government of the greater communist country that evolved during the degradation of Italy, because it is not a question of governing. We formulate abstract images of this real power, which are basically apocalyptic. We have no idea what form it would take in directly replacing those who used it and took it for a simple modernization of techniques. At any rate, as for me, should that interest the reader, let it be clearly understood. I would give the entire Montedison, even though it be a multinational company, for a firefly.

1. Allusion to the Rocco code (translator’s note)
2. In French in the text