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Fedeli alla linea: CCCP and the Italian Way to Punk

Fedeli alla linea: CCCP e o percurso italiano do punk
Fedeli alla Linea: CCCP et le parcours italien du punk
Vincenzo Romania
p. 63-82


O punk em Itália foi amplamente ignorado enquanto objeto de estudo no passado, sendo que a atenção se centrou antes sobre a cena em outros países. O artigo examina a cena punk italiana e a sua transição do punk clássico para o pós-punk, tendo por referência o seu grupo mais famoso e representativo: CCCP Fedeli alla linea.
Após uma breve introdução do contexto histórico e cultural do grupo, apresentamos os resultados da análise qualitativa textual das suas músicas, usando a metodologia da semiótica narrativa de Algirdas Greimas (1983). Os resultados mostram que a produção artística do grupo CCCP pode ser interpretada como uma paródia subversiva e irónica das tradições coletivistas dominantes na política e cultura italianas da época (comunismo e catolicismo) e como uma reação criativa crítica ao neoliberalismo. Na conclusão debatemos brevemente algumas questões teóricas, como a relação entre o punk e a autenticidade e comparamos ainda o punk italiano com o punk britânico e português.

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Notas da redação

Revised by Sheena Caldwell

Received on 23.07.2015
Accepted for publication on 24.03.2016

Texto integral


1Punk has always been an expression of rebellion against capitalism, imperialism, the exploitation of the working class, materialism and the patriarchal society.

  • 2 The concept of neoliberalism used in this article refers to the definition by Harvey: “Neoliberalis (...)

2This artistic and cultural rebellion emerged in very different forms, and in different temporal and geographical contexts (Dunn, 2008). Its moral, subcultural and existential flexibility opened up an almost infinite process of differentiation\identification (Simmel, 1905), i.e. it allowed very different and unique punk identities to be created, representing different feelings and personal experiences. As a consequence, punk developed as a very individualistic movement (Guerra, 2014: 114), but at the same time also promoted the selfvalorisation of individuals, or what Dunn has described as the disalienation of subjects living in the age of neoliberalism2 (2008).

3As Georg Simmel has pointed out (2004: 155ff.), art provides individuals with a framework for representing every element of their lives, trans forming and revolutionising their reality through stylization. In this sense, punk emerged as a demystification of mainstream culture, giving rise to alternative lifestyles and the rediscovery of subjectivity.

4As a consequence, the birth of punk in Italy can be contextualised as part of the larger historical reaction to the turbulent transformation that was taking place in society. At the time, Italy was emerging from a long period of terror ism and experiencing the significant growth of youth movements (Melucci, 1984) together with the transformation of its traditional political cultures, namely Catholicism, which inspired the conservative Democrazia Cristiana movement (DC), and communism, represented by the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI). Italian punk can be contextualised as part of the global transition from a period of disruption to a postmodern search for authenticity. The following section explains how the cultural movement which began in 1977 played a crucial role in this transition.

1. The Historical and Cultural Background to Italian Punk

5The first Italian punk bands were formed in 1977, in the mediumsized to large northern cities of Turin, Milan, Bologna and Pordenone. However, as was the case in other southern European nations (Guerra, 2014), punk did not become a visible subculture until the 1980s.

6Between the 1970s and 1980s, Italy was undergoing a period of economic development and political transformation. Traditional political parties such as the Democrazia Cristiana (Christian Democrats) and Partito Comunista Italiano (the strongest communist party in the Western world) were losing support, while a new liberal‑socialist party (PSI) had come to power (and was to govern for a decade), heralding the start of a short but intense period of economic growth and political corruption. Lifestyles were transformed: consumer‑orientated subcultures, such as the yuppie culture, spread throughout the richer regions of the country, large areas of traditional agricultural land were transformed into modern industrial factories and, in 1979, commercial television was introduced.

7In contrast with Great Britain during the ‘classic’ punk period of 19741978, Italy was experiencing a period of posteconomic crisis, characterised by its emergence from a dark age of political terrorism and the gradual cultural acceptance of a neoliberal way of life.

8The music scene was mainly characterised by two completely opposite types of music: a mainstream pop genre called canzone leggera (‘pop songs’), and a countercultural genre called canzone di denuncia (‘protest songs’). The former had played a significant role in the development of the Italian music industry since the 1950s, having been heavily promoted by the major record labels (RCA and Ricordi), national television (Rai), and famous national festivals (Festival di Sanremo, Canzonissima). The latter emerged in the 1960s, together with the 1968 movement, and was inspired by Italian folk traditions including anarchist folk and protest songs from the fascist period.

9This musical rivalry largely coincided with the political rivalry between the DC and the PCI. In contrast with these two strong musical genres, the rock scene was rather weak, featuring only a small number of bands. Its most significant groups were prog rock bands such as PFM and Area, who were in fact more popular abroad, and a few new wave bands, such as Litfiba and Diaframma who would become more successful in the 1980s and 1990s. In brief, the birth of punk in Italy took place within the context of the pluralisation of the musical landscape.

10The early Italian punk scene was influenced by subgenres (anarchopunk, straight edge, and hardcore punk) which had been imported from around the world. Nevertheless, in its early days, Italian punk was strongly connected to a specific domestic movement: the Movimento del ‘77 (M77). As Milburn suggested, “1977 was a year in which sections of youth in both England and Italy enjoyed explosions of creativity” (Milburn, 2001).

11M77 came about in Italy as a product of the dissolution of certain leftwing extraparliamentary groups, who formed a new political subject called Autonomia. Autonomia was a highly theorised political movement which proposed a new social paradigm as an alternative to Marxism. It countered the appeal to transcend ideas, contextualising its action in the concrete struggles of everyday life and stressing the autonomy of culture and politics in relation to the economy. Its cultural roots can be found in the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci, who also influenced the school of cultural studies.

12M77 supported the early diffusion of underground culture in Italy and the first examples of counterinformation, and encouraged the importation of punk into Italy, in particular Bologna, where the first punkzines and record labels were formed with the help of anarchists (Philopat, 2006). Like British punk, M77 was influenced by avantgardism, situationism and a political interpretation of the philosophy of Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes.

  • 3 Art schools played an important role in the development of subcultures (See Frith and Horne, 1987).

13In the same period, the newly opened Faculty of Performance Studies (DAMS) at the University of Bologna played a growing role in the formation of the punk scene;3 in fact, a number of DAMS students went on to form punk bands, such as Skiantos, CCCP, and Gaznevada.

  • 4 Even college radio had an important role in the formation of subcultures (see Kruse, 2003).

14It were also influenced by the intellectual circle associated with Radio Alice (Berardi, 1997), one of the richest expressions of the movement. Radio Alice was an independent radio station where many intellectuals, such as the semiologist Franco Berardi, created innovative forms of semiotic revolution. The aim of its cultural collective was to produce subversive communication with innovative language and forms of interaction, and the regular transmission of Italian punk songs contributed to the diffusion of a deterritorialised, translocal punk subculture in Italy.4

  • 5 On the peculiarity of centri sociali in the history of subcultures in Italy, see Mitchell, 1996; Wr (...)

15Another important contribution to the establishment of punk in Italy were the two squats, Traumfabrik in Bologna and Virus in Milan. They led to other occupations, and also to the establishment of centri sociali (“social centres”). Whereas squats were temporary occupations, centri sociali gradually gained public recognition and played a part in the diffusion of alternative subcultures in Italy.5

16Punk subculture in Bologna emerged at the crossroads with the M77 subculture and produced the most interesting Italian example of the integration of global and local punk.

17CCCP Fedeli alla linea was founded in this cultural background and their artistic production contains elements of subversive communication, situationism and avantgardism. Lead singer Giovanni Lindo Ferretti was, in his youth, a member of Lotta Continua, one of the most important extra‑parliamentary movements, but the band did not declare any affiliations with them; in fact, the first time they met was in Berlin where they were escaping the deteriorating Italian youth culture: “Crushed between the violence of the state and the violence of the Red Brigades, the space the movement had created was closed amidst a legacy of detention, mental illness and heroin addiction” (Milburn, 2001).

18This is the first reason for focussing on their punk production. The second is their commercial success and cultural influence: CCCP are the only Italian punk band to have achieved substantial commercial success and significantly influenced the Italian alternative rock scene which emerged later. Thirdly, their lengthy music experience places them in the transitional phase between classic punk and the postmodern search for authenticity that characterised punk in the 80s.

19The following section provides some basic biographical information and discusses the construction of their punk identity.

2. CCCP: Biography and Punk Identity

20Punk encourages the appropriation and detachment of both visual and linguistic symbols and icons (Hebdige, 1979) from their original ideological, political and religious contexts in order to reframe them in a different, transgressive sense. This was clearly the case with CCCP Fedeli alla linea in English “USSR Faithful to the Line”: the name is derived from the Italian mistranslation of the USSR acronym “Союз Советских Социалистических Республик”, due to the incorrect transliteration of the Cyrillic letter C in the Latin alphabet.

21The choice of name therefore expresses the phenomenon of translating Soviet aesthetics into popular folk culture, representing the appropriation of Sovietism in the daily life of the Italian working class (Hoggart, 1957). One wellknown example of the symbolic dislocation of Soviet symbols comes from the early 1970s, when Malcom McLaren persuaded the New York Dolls to dress in red vinyl for their live performances and play under a Russian flag, using the situinspired slogan: “What are the politics of boredom, better red than dead!”.

22Unlike the USA and other areas where the redskin punk scene was to be found, communism was not strongly stigmatised in Italy at that time; in fact, at the end of 1970s Italy had the most powerful communist party in the Western world. In some areas, such as Reggio Emilia, the PCI had more than 75% of the vote at national and local level (Colarizi, 1988). In this cultural context, Sovietism represented three things: nostalgia for the USSR for the small, declining groups on the extraparliamentary left; the quintessence of military discipline and oppression, which was considered the enemy for Autonomia; and an artistic utopian and ironic alternative to neoliberalism.

23CCCP’s choice of name did not therefore conform to the typical punk transformation of the negative and the profane into a positive force (Nehring, 1993: 232); instead it signalled a constitutive ambivalence. At the same time, Sovietism represented a voluntary ‘conviction’ “Faithful to the line, even when there is no line” (a line from the song CCCP) which was both a source of salvation from capitalism and a source of voluntary oppression. This authentic inauthenticity (Grossberg, 1992) led CCCP to use irony in citing and reframing communist symbols. For instance, the title of their second album, Socialism and Barbarity, is a parody of Rose Luxembourg’s dictum ‘socialism or barbarity’, introduced in her classic essay Juniusbroschüre (1915).

24CCCP was formed in 198182 following an encounter between Matteo Zamboni (guitarist) and Giovanni Lindo Ferretti (lead singer and lyricist). The band was completed by Umberto Negri (bass) and two other artists, Annarella and Fatur. The founding members (Ferretti, Zamboni and Negri) came from Reggio Emilia, a mediumsized city near Bologna, but first met in Berlin where they were influenced by industrial rock, punk and new wave. In the period 198284 their live work was divided between Berlin and their birthplace, EmiliaRomagna two polar opposites in the pivotal hybrid of genres and topics, reflecting an ambivalence between metropolitan cosmopolitanism and antimaterialistic provincial life.

25Their live performances may simultaneously be considered counterrituals, rituals of opposition and avantgarde performances. As with classic punk, CCCP’s concerts were situationist performances designed to create confusion (Henry, 1984), disruption and audience denial. Situationist performance, rooted in the culture of M77, provided CCCP with the “necessary link in the avantgarde chain... between the original avantgarde and punk” (Nehring, 1993: 224) and provided a means of creating a new form of audience awareness (Johnson, 2014: 67). They defined their concerts as acts of collective therapy, “a sort of voluntary therapy invented and undertaken by an ‘unwanted’ generation” (Reddington, 2007: 12).

  • 6 The label was created during the 1977 movement by Helena Velena, the transgender singer of a famous(...)

26In 19841985 they released their first records (three EPs and their first full album) on the independent Attack Punk label.6 The first two EPs were entitled Ortodossia (Orthodoxy) and Ortodossia II (1984), recalling the Soviet military and ideological orthodoxy, while the third was called Compagni, cittadini, fratelli, partigiani. [Comrades, citizens, brothers, partisans] a title inspired by the first verse of the song Per i morti di Reggio Emilia by Fausto Amodei, dedicated to five workers killed by the Italian police during a rally in July 1960. This celebration of Sovietism is often connected with a nostalgic (but still parodic) celebration of oldfashioned Italian leftwing politics.

27Their first full album was entitled 1964‑1985 Affinità e divergenze fra il compagno Togliatti e Noi, del conseguimento della maggiore età [Affinities and divergences between Comrade Togliatti and Us, on reaching the age of consent], referring to the title of a letter sent from the Chinese Communist Party to the PCI.

28The idea of parodying ideology was completely new in Italy. The Italian Communist Party, with its leftist associations, partisans, trade unions, and all the other sociopolitical subjects associated with the left had a very orthodox view of political songs, which were performed at parties, festivals and conventions. Yet CCCP even dared to ridicule the sacred status of the partisan in an ironic song (Battagliero). This is fundamental to understanding the semiotic difference in CCCP’s use of Sovietism: for the Italian punk band, it was positioned in a precise historical and cultural context in which it already had the important everyday function of differentiation, both from communism and neoliberalism.

  • 7 Eng.: Socialism and Barbarity (1987); Songs, prayers and dance of the II millennium – Section Europ (...)

29In addition to their ideology, even their sound and style of performance were completely new for the Italian music scene, and they were an immediate success. They played at festivals and their performances received some coverage on national television. This success led to them signing with Virgin Music in 1985 to release their next three studio albums: Socialismo e Barbarie (1987), Canzoni preghiere danze del II millennio Sezione Europa (1989) and Epica Etica Etnica Pathos (1990).7

30Although their first album was purely punk, the Virgin albums mix punk sounds with industrial hardcore, Italian folk music, world music, chamber music, and disco, producing a kind of Zappaesque mix of genres and poetry. In 1991 the band renamed itself C.S.I. (Consorzio Suonatori Indipendenti – Union of Independent Musicians). It was a way of signalling the end of

  • 8 This article only focuses on CCCP lyrics and does not consider the CSI albums.

31the influence of the Soviet Union, which had collapsed, and marking their musical transformation into a less punk, more alternative rock sound, as well as introducing their new members.8

3. Methodological Approach

32This study involved a socio-semiotic textual analysis of CCCP lyrics, using Algirdas Greimas’ methodology of narrative semiotics (1983). Narrative semiotics is a textual approach that enables the implicit structures of meaning in large and fragmented corpora such as punk songs to be analysed.

  • 9With reference to all the records mentioned before.

33The corpus was composed of 52 song lyrics – CCCP’s entire studio output.9 On a technical level, the texts were first divided into “elements of sense”, applying an en‑vivo coding to the lyrics.

34This was followed by a search for textual isotopies (semantic units), i.e., in Greimasian terms, recurrences of semantic categories in the text. The isotopies were constructed by looking at the different discursive levels of dialectic differentiation.

35The following axes of differentiation were categorised:

  1. The meta-discursive level, featuring 11 times in the lyrics, which consists of the following sub-dimensions: discourse on punk in terms of differentiation (6); discourse on punk in terms of identization (5);

    • 10The number of dimensions and sub-dimensions may be greater than the number of lyrics, for the obvi (...)

    The socio-political level – representing the largest isotopy, coded 81 times in the 52 sets of lyrics.10 It consists of the following sub-dimensions: the objectification of social relationships (19); the celebration of Sovietism (14) and religion (23) as alternative sources of meaning, in opposition to the dystopian vision of present capitalism; the philosophy of history and politics (35);

  2. The existential level, an isotopy which appears 37 times in the lyrics. It consists of the following sub-dimensions: the anomie of modern society (13); the psychological and psychiatric disorders of individuals (12); fatalism and boredom (10 poems); love and sexuality (7).

36For reasons of space, I will only consider the most important examples in any given isotopy, synthesising the different forms of enunciation and subcodes.

4. Metadiscursive Level

37In the CCCP lyrics the metadiscourse on punk enables them to differentiate themselves from what they consider to be spurious, insincere or outdated punk icons (e.g. the Sex Pistols) and to propose a proper, authentic form of punk. In a metadiscursive sense, CCCP’s search for punk authenticity is driven by the need to construct a cultural autonomy for Italian punk, in contrast to the commercialisation of canzone leggera.

38The most relevant example of this metadiscourse can be found in the song Tu menti (You Lie), which is a direct attack on the iconic Sex Pistols through an imagined conversation between the author and Johnny Rotten (who is not actually named in the song, but is nonetheless clearly identifiable). The leader of the Sex Pistols is described as a liar who is being used by the music industry for commercial purposes: “You lie, lie, lie, lie\ I know who you know\ I know where you go\ They’ve taken the piss out of you\ You’ve destroyed yourself\ You’ve been fucking cheated” (Tu menti – You Lie).

39In this song, as in many others, CCCP use a particular figure of speech: the parodic citation, i.e. the erudite inversion, transformation or confusion of the original meaning of a citation. It is a form of cynical irony (Bewes, 1997) used to denigrate enemies and affirm individual identity through differentiation. This parody references the Sex Pistols’ song Liar and the lines: “Lie lie lie\ liar you lie; “I know where you go\ everybody you know”. On a metadiscursive level, verses which had been originally composed by the Sex Pistols, such as those dissing the New York Dolls, became a means of deriding them in turn. Rotten is described as an empty icon; he does not represent sincere or authentic punk but instead is represented as a stereotypical member of a boy band acting out a persona in a show, without any ideological involvement: “They always say stuff like: \I am the Anarchy\Here’s another Anti-Christ\ But you were just pretty\ Oh so pretty\ Lazy and well-dressed\ Without blue jeans’ (Tu menti)”.

40The last part of the lyrics is also a parodic citation of the Sex Pistols’ song Pretty Vacant (“We’re so pretty, oh so pretty”). In their continual defiance of conformity, CCCP also rejected the conformism of classic punk.

  • 11The lira was the official currency in Italy before the Euro.

41This attack on a symbol of punk purity coexists alongside an ongoing claim for authentic inauthenticity: “The world is rotten by the wish of purity. We are not pure. We never wanted to be pure” (Ferretti at Leoncavallo, Milan, 1st of May, 1985). One episode in particular reveals their problematic relationship with “anti-commercial authenticity”: in 1985, on signing with Virgin Records, the band was strongly criticised by their fans, who saw this as a betrayal of their authentic anti-capitalistic and punk stance. The band responded by writing a song ironically entitled Fedeli alla lira? [Faithful to the Lira?].11 Their semantic refusal of any punk authenticity was expressed in three ways: firstly, by the ironic replacement of the world linea (orthodoxy) with the world lira (money); secondly, by arranging the song as a liscio, a type of Italian folk music which was popular in Emilia-Romagna and the complete opposite of punk in terms of tempo and musical aesthetics; thirdly, by directly challenging the audience and inverting the giver\receiver relationship: “And then you want me to be faithful\ to your new cutting edge\ Adoring progress, fashion, modernity\ I have already grown enough, I can’t take it any more\ I have grown even more, too much\ But what do you give me?” (Fedeli alla lira?).

42In short, they made it clear that it was possible to be authentic despite commercial involvement in the music industry (Hebdige, 1979).

5. Sociopolitical Level

43CCCP’s criticism of the objectification of society and culture was strongly influenced by the sociopolitical situation in Emilia Romagna during the transition from the period of terrorism in the 70s to the consumerism of the 80s, and also by the 1977 social movement, with its emphasis on the rejection of compulsory labour.

44This isotopy includes different subcodes:

  • a discourse on the ‘moral awakening’ from false consciousness; a nostalgic search for the Original Land;

  • a series of hetero-definitions of the self, expressed through the language of advertisements, common sense, politics and science;

  • a sociological discourse on the effects of socio-economic development;

  • ironic\critical use of the language of bureaucracy and marketing;

  • a look back to Sovietism and Catholicism as sources of meaning;

  • a discourse on war and peace.

45The synthesis of these subcodes leads to one main distinction: desubjectification vs. grand narratives (Sovietism, Catholicism, peace) that can be interpreted as a typical feature of postmodernism (Lyotard, 1979).

5.1. Desubjectification

46The CCCP songs address themes such as standardization, desubjectification, loss of creativity and false consciousness and call for creative revolt as the shared output of the different expressions of M77. The movement theorised the possibility of self-valorisation out of the logic of capitalism in a different way from both neoliberalism and the political activity of the Italian Communist Party. CCCP used punk music to create an ironic play on the two fundamental sources of meaning for Italian politics and civil culture in the early 1980s, i.e. communism and religion, in order to produce a moral discourse on subjectivity and disalienation (Dunn, 2008).

47In the lyrics, the two symbolic universes have the same semantic functions: they are sources of identity, security, stability, and psychological relief, as well as a means of human aggregation and sociability, helping individuals to resist the human condition of loneliness, objectification and oppression.

  • 12Greimas defined utterances of state as enunciates which define a state or a property (for example (...)

48One interesting form of linguistic revolt against desubjectivisation is the frequent use of utterances of state12 (Greimas, 1983), whose rhetoric is more descriptive and poetic than narrative. Their lyrics seldom develop into a complex plot; on the contrary, through their songs CCCP defined a discourse on existence, the present day, and past and present models of development using general descriptions and presenting moral judgements.

49In particular, they use hetero-attribution as the semantic anchorage for cultural objectification: the use of ‘I am so’ and ‘I am not so’ assertions aim to express the ambivalence between hetero-definitions of individual identity and the auto-determination of the self-valorised subject, reaching towards a postmodern interpretation of punk as the expression of an authentic inauthenticity (Grossberg, 1992).

  • 13Eng.: I am who you want to me to be.

50The song Sono come tu mi vuoi,13 which includes a series of slogans in the language of advertising, politics and common sense, is a perfect example of this is: “I’m not a throw-away bottle\ Nor an impossible stain\ Nor a registered trademark\ Nor a product on the market\ I’m not a point of reference \ Nor a basic reality\ Nor a fact\ Nor a concluded dispute\ Nor a completed file”.

51Other textual examples can be found in their nihilist indifference to self-attribution – “I may be a happy fool\ A pre-political man, or a drug addict” (Emilia Paranoica) – or the use of geological metaphors, associating the flatlands of the Pianura Padana (the Po Valley) with the moral flatness of the present: “sated and desperate land\ with or without TV\ flat and monotonous\ modern and well-equipped” (Rozzemilia).

5.2. Celebration and Parody of Sovietism

52CCCP use different forms of enunciation to refer to Sovietism: autobiographical, Dadaist\surrealist, epic, sarcastic, emancipatory, and nostalgic. They celebrate the USSR’s military, institutional, national and social aesthetics, but at the same time criticize the censorship, social control, political weakness and cognitive rigidity of the Soviet empire. They use a particular linguistic register even for Sovietism: parodic imitation or celebration of slogans and political discourse. Parody is often expressed through the mispronunciation\misspelling\distortion of classic Soviet references. One example of this can be found in a couple of lines from the song Manifesto: “The Soviets plus electricity\ do not make communism”, an ironic inversion of Lenin’s famous slogan “Communism is the Soviet power, plus the electrification of the whole country” (1920). Another example is the song CCCP: “Pravda Rude Pravo\ Tribuna Ludu KGB KGB KGB\ Much more than a new man: a new man\ Faithful to the line, even when there is no line”. The first part uses the rhetorical device of accumulation to ridicule Soviet efforts to control information through intelligence, the secret services and censorship. The second contains a parody of Soviet manifestos and an accusation of unaware and inauthentic discipline and conviction.

53The celebration of Sovietism is contextualised in a historical discourse on the Cold War. The song Live in Punkow presents a semantic opposition between the two sides of the Iron Curtain: instability and loneliness on the Western side, and stability and socialism in the East. It uses a variety of toponyms to express this concept and connects the geopolitical division of the world to the existential malaise of the citizens of Western countries: “I wanna take refuge under the Warsaw Pact\ I want a five-year plan\ I want stability!” (Live in Punkow). In a different way, A ja lublju SSSR (I love the USSR) is a freely-inspired version of the USSR’s national anthem which includes a poetic celebration of the socialist practice of collective labour: “Honour the arm moving the loom\ Honour the force moving the steel\ It exists, I know\ A ja lublju SSSR” (A ja lublju SSSR).

54The Berlin wall, the quintessential symbol of the Cold War, is described without any moral judgement, almost with a sense of indifference and anomie: “I run near the Wall\ I don’t know, I don’t wanna know\ What difference does it make?” (Punk Islam). This is probably the summa of their aesthetic but not moral celebration of the USSR. In 1990, when the separation of the USSR was clearly imminent, the band wrote a song using metaphors to express the parallel between the withdrawal of the ex-Soviet states from the Soviet Union and the tendency of individuals to withdraw into their own private space: “One declares independence and leaves\ One takes refuge in his intimacy\ The last proclaims total alienation” (Depressione Caspica [Caspian Depression]).

5.3. Celebration of Religion

55This isotopy is one of the most common in the lyrics analysed. Again, it is presented through various forms of enunciation and narrative registers: liturgical, evocative, mythological, ascetic, emancipatory (religion as a force for change), conflicting, and ironic-surrealist.

56Religion is not always criticised, as in classic post-Crass punk, but is often celebrated, like Sovietism, as a grand narrative (Lyotard, 1979) that saves ‘lost souls’ from neoliberalism. One key point in understanding CCCP’s punk is as a Freudian account of modernity as a relational void that can only be filled through motherhood, discipline and repetition.

57With regard to linguistic register, CCCP draws a parallel between punk and religion on the basis of the repetition and reiteration of verses (Rossi, 2014). CCCP’s punk as a religious chant uses recursive forms of poetry to induce a trance, a form of emotional and spiritual transport. For this reason, some of their songs contain parts of the Latin Mass or entire stanzas of Gregorian chants, assembling and using them as patchwork. The introduction to Militanz, for instance, includes a series of verses from the requiem mass. This celebration of psalmody is also associated with Islam: “Don’t think, just repeat your psalms\ Islam punk, Islam punk, Islam punk und punk Islam” (Punk Islam).

58In ascetic terms, religion represents a means of ascendance through mundane askesis (Sloterdijk, 2013), i.e. discipline, repetition and conviction: “Do not fear the terror of night\ You can ascend through a force that is descending” (Tien An Men).

59The evocative terms are the best expression of the aforementioned relationship between religion and motherhood. The song Madre, in particular, extended CCCP’s punk to the religious ode. Sacred maternity is denoted in Madre as a supreme source of motherhood and relief of the soul: “Mother of God and of his son\ mother of the fathers and of the mothers\ Mother, oh mother,\ my soul turns to you” (Madre ­‑Mother).

60In nostalgic terms, an idealized version of Catholicism is linked to a nostalgia for the Original Land. CCCP lyrics suggest an escape from industrialism and consumerism and a return to simplicity and traditional society, as exemplified in the following lines: “An emotion to travel through time\ To find my destination\ In the midst of too many men but no God\ Or an excess of gods but few men” (E’ vero – It’s true). The Catholic city is claimed to be the spiritually authentic utopian city – as in Moore and Campanella – while the modern metropolis is seen as the realm of industry, precariousness and inauthenticity.

61Although CCCP fans saw Ferretti’s religious conversion as a betrayal of the original philo-sovietic philosophy, in the elements considered here both symbolic universes have the same semantic function: they represent aesthetic repertoires, as well as frameworks for the re-signification of life and, once again, are a means of subjective authenticity.

5.4. Peace, War and the Philosophy of History

62As depicted in Mayakovsky’s Mystery-Bouffe (1918), war is fundamentally represented as a clash between two factions: the pure versus the impure, the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie, the Soviets against the Americans. It is also used as a trope for developing a more general philosophy of history. Old and new conflicts are explored, highlighting analogies according to an implicit cyclic vision of history. The rhetoric of Sovietism and Catholicism allowed CCCP to draw a semantic distinction between authenticity and inauthenticity and to place themselves in the peace punk context.

  • 14A hotel in Rome which hosted important political meetings.

63The most frequent subcodes are: definition of the present, through its wars (Trafitto, Tien An Men, Huligani Dangereux, Inch’allah ca va); wars in historical cycles (Aghia Sophia, Militanz, L’andazzo generale); analysis of current conflicts (Paxo de Jerusalem, Palestina 11/15/1988, Radio Kabul, Emilia Paranoica, Hong Kong and Manifesto); the philosophy of history (Guerra e Pace, U.N., Militanz); and a surrealistic and baroque discourse on different but overlapping historical conflicts. One example of this last category is the song L’andazzo generale: “I long for the Augustan ruins and for the airy collapses\ I love the guilt, the failures and the weakness\ I hate the bore of Hotel Clodio14\ And the young offspring”. In these verses, as in many others, there is a clear opposition between a utopian representation of the past and a dystopian representation of the present. Wars have psychological effects on the individual, and the condition of individuals is metaphorically related to foreign affairs: “Europe has become lost in a trance, recently\ My friends too, my friends too” (Live in Pankow).

6. Existential Level

64This discursive level focuses on the author’s biography, self, emotions and psychological disorders. Unlike the preceding sociopolitical discourse, it entails a narrower view of subjectivity and the author’s experience, and is expressed linguistically in an informal style. It includes five main dimensions: anomie, psychopathology, boredom, love and sexuality, and fatalism. For reasons of space, the main focus is on the first two.

6.1. Anomie and Alienation

65The theme of the anomie and alienation of the modern citizen occurs frequently in the lyrics analysed. It is presented through the following forms of enunciation: lack of awareness of personal purpose, personal emotions, and the individual and collective meaning of life (5); the rejection of mainstream ideologies, values, political forms of participation and history (3); loss\confusion (3); impotence (2); voluntary isolation from social obligations and the labour market; media misinformation and an excess of available options (1). CCCP’s discourse is consistent with Merton’s theory of anomie (1938) and Simmel’s theory of the condition of the blasé urban individual (Simmel, 1972) who reacts with detachment to an overload of stimuli.

66The following lines provide a good example of this: “Do you know, what luck to be free,\ To be subjected to freedom, which seems infinite\ And not ever know what to wear\ Where to go dancing, who to telephone” (Narko’s).

67Concerning the issue of objectification, CCCP affirms a form of resistance to anomie, flaunting an attitude of voluntary non-participation that today would be defined as NEET (not in education, employment or training) or hikkikomori, as exemplified in the following verse: “I do not study\ do not work\ do not watch TV\ do not go to the cinema\ do not play any sport” (Io sto bene). Finally, in many of their songs there is a reminder of the individual inability to define emotions: “I feel good\ I feel bad\ I don’t know how to feel” (ivi). Again, this can be read as a sign of objectification in Simmelian terms: the individual loses the agency to define himself and experience the tension between the personal and social expression of emotions in a world of commercialised feelings (Hochshild, 1983). Authenticity is implicitly theorised as liberation from this emotional objectification, which leads to a withdrawal from society and devotion to one’s private life. This ‘escape’ corresponds to a phenomenon which was common in Italy after the end of the period of terrorism in the 1970s, labelled by the Italian press as riflusso (resignation). It has been defined as “an attitude and behaviour, produced by a climate of falling and disappointed expectations, and characterized by the return to values considered outdated and to a resignation to the private sphere, with a concomitant political and social disengagement.” (Treccani, 2015: Riflusso).

68Riflusso is a product of the Movement of ’77 and a political outcome of the failure of Autonomia: the refusal to recognise their experience in the grand narratives of communism and neoliberalism led young people to focus on their own experiences and return to private life. It meant both the failure of political participation and a space for artistic creation.

6.2. Punk as Psychotherapy

69Giovanni Lindo Ferretti’s experience of working with psychiatric patients deeply influenced CCCP lyrics: their style of punk represents psychopathology as a central issue in the condition of the modern citizen. They often presented their performances and songs as psychotherapy sessions for mentally disturbed audiences, both in an individual and in a collective sense, and one of their songs is, in fact, entitled Svegliami (perizia psichiatrica nazionalpopolare) [Wake me up (national-popular psychiatric report)].

70The most common subcode is a reference to a permanent state of agitation and despair that can be found in at least six songs. One of their songs is entitled Valium Tavor Serenase, the names of the three most widely used sedatives. The names of drugs are often mentioned in their lyrics, as a symbol of the commercialisation of psychotherapy. Psychiatric medication is seen as a commercial means of normalization (Goffman, 1961), while human care is seen as the authentic cure for modernity. Therefore, “medication vs. love and care” represents a new semantic axis for the polarity of authenticity vs. inauthenticity, which overlaps with the fundamental opposition of capitalism vs. humanism.

71One example of this is found in the song Curami, in which the lover is expected to take care of the subject, to alleviate his suffering. The songwriter plays with the polysemic similarity between the Italian form curami (“take care of me”) and prendimi in cura di te, which can also mean “take me into your care\ look after me”. Love replaces medicine and psychologists: “I am lost and confused\ Hold me in your arms\ hold me tight\ Give me your days\ Your nights\ Today, tomorrow, again” (Svegliami: perizia psichiatrica nazionalpopolare). Again, CCCP’s artistic production is a search for a new humanism, through which human potential can be realised (Marx, 1972 [1818]), in contrast to the alienation and objectification of social life.

6.3. Boredom, Love and Sexuality, and Fatalism

72These three subcodes have an ambivalent relationship to the topics confronted by classic British punk. With regard to boredom, for instance, punk is seen as an alternative to the boredom of modern living: “Is it better being inert\ or having green hair?” (VST). Seven songs are devoted to the topic of love and sexuality. The earlier ones are consistent with the celebration of raw sexuality found in classic punk, while the later songs are more consistent with the humanistic philosophy that characterises CCCP’s punk. One example is the song Annarella: “Leave me here, leave me now, leave me this way\ Don’t say a word except words of love”. The final existential component is fatalism, i.e. lyrics devoted to the meaning of life or death. The invitation to self­‑destruct and commit suicide, typical of classic punk, coexists contradictorily with the incitement to live a full, rich and free life, which is, in fact, closer to M77’s manifesto: “Oddly enough, there is only one life” (BBB); “Death is unbearable for those who cannot live” (Morire).

Final Remarks

73During the second half of the 1970s different Western countries encountered a similar cultural and economic crisis and punk was one of the most successful artistic reactions to this situation. It represented a disruptive form of disalienation, as well as a source of self-valorisation for a growing community of people in different countries who situated themselves outside the mainstream culture.

74In the case of Italy, punk emerged almost simultaneously with the United Kingdom, United States and other southern European countries, such as Portugal. At the time, some classic British punk themes (Worley, 2012), such as boredom, alienation and anti-materialism, were imported by Italian punk bands and interpreted from the perspective of a domestic critique of the conservatism of the Christian democrats, the reification of social life by the Communist Party, and the growing neoliberalism. Compared to Portuguese punk (Guerra and Silva, 2015), the feelings of denunciation, protest and demarcation were weaker in Italy, whereas an existential and philosophical revolt against the social order was more evident. This difference can be explained by the different political situations in the two countries. Whereas in the late 70s Portugal was experiencing the spread of the recent democratization and a “new sense of openness and empowerment” of youth (ibidem: 208), Italy was living through a time of cultural transformation and economic expansion which produced a growing sense of anomie.

75The cultural reaction to this anomie gave life to the social movement called Movimento del ’77. It deeply influenced the topics and poetry of CCCP lyrics. Its emphasis on autonomy and self-valorisation was interpreted by the band through its ironic celebration of Sovietism and religion. The mix of disruption and the search for authenticity places CCCP in the aesthetic transition from classic punk (1974 to 1978) to postmodern punk (1980 to the present). Their search for authenticity involved adopting a fluid political and aesthetic stance in which ‘conviction’ was valued in and for itself, regardless of the specific stance adopted. For these reasons, their artistic production reflected subsequent developments in DIY(do-it-yourself)/punk ethics.

76As different scholars have suggested (see Guerra and Moreira, 2015 and Lewin and Williams, 2009), the search for authenticity, together with cultural hybridisation, were stimulating factors that favoured the development, global diffusion and longevity of punk. The success of CCCP can only be understood from the perspective of inauthentic authenticity (Grossberg, 1992), in terms of contradiction and irony. Moreover, the partial misunderstanding or misinterpretation of CCCP’s portrayal of religion and Sovietism is, in fact, a reason for their enduring success. They spoke directly to an audience of young people who identified with the values of M77, but also to a larger audience of communist or leftist Italians who found a connection between CCCP’s celebration of the USSR and their own values and paid little attention to the contradictory aspects of their style of punk. This contradiction has emerged many times, from the 1980s to the present, whenever Ferretti has openly rejected his original leftist beliefs and embraced a traditional, righteous and conservative ideology. All these conflicts were caused by the same search for an authentic version and an authentic memory of CCCP. Nevertheless, punk cannot be authentic in any essentialist sense.

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1 For reasons of space, they will often be referred to in this article as CCCP.

2 The concept of neoliberalism used in this article refers to the definition by Harvey: “Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human wellbeing can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade. […] State interventions in markets (once created) must be kept to a bare minimum” (Harvey, 2005: 2).

3 Art schools played an important role in the development of subcultures (See Frith and Horne, 1987).

4 Even college radio had an important role in the formation of subcultures (see Kruse, 2003).

5 On the peculiarity of centri sociali in the history of subcultures in Italy, see Mitchell, 1996; Wright, 2000; Magaudda, 2007.

6 The label was created during the 1977 movement by Helena Velena, the transgender singer of a famous Italian anarchopunk band called RAF (Rebel Anarchist Fraction). In the 1980s, Attack punk was the most important label for Italian anarchopunk.

7 Eng.: Socialism and Barbarity (1987); Songs, prayers and dance of the II millennium – Section Europe (1989); Epic Ethic Ethnic Pathos (1990).

8 This article only focuses on CCCP lyrics and does not consider the CSI albums.

9With reference to all the records mentioned before.

10The number of dimensions and sub-dimensions may be greater than the number of lyrics, for the obvious reason that a lyric can contain more isotopies and sub-isotopies.

11The lira was the official currency in Italy before the Euro.

12Greimas defined utterances of state as enunciates which define a state or a property (for example ‘the pen is blue’). On the contrary, utterances of doing include the transformation of objects and subjects (for example ‘I gave you a blue pen’). The former are more descriptive and poetic, while the second are more appropriate in narrative and prosaic texts.

13Eng.: I am who you want to me to be.

14A hotel in Rome which hosted important political meetings.

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Para citar este artigo

Referência do documento impresso

Vincenzo Romania, « Fedeli alla linea: CCCP and the Italian Way to Punk », Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais, 109 | 2016, 63-82.

Referência eletrónica

Vincenzo Romania, « Fedeli alla linea: CCCP and the Italian Way to Punk », Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais [Online], 109 | 2016, colocado online no dia 18 Maio 2016, criado a 21 Fevereiro 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/rccs.6215

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Vincenzo Romania

Associate Professor of Cultural Studies
Department of Philosophy, Sociology, Social Psychology and Education
Università Degli Studi di Padova, Via Cesarotti 12, 35123 Padova, Itália

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Licença Creative Commons CC BY 3.0

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