John Armitage on Sat, 12 Sep 1998 21:47:34 +0200 (MET DST)

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Hi Nettimers,

Some of you may not have seen the latest communique from Toni Negri 
below. Enjoy.

John Armitage

LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE - August-September 1998


Reviewing the experience of Italy in the

     Toni Negri was one of the historic leadership of the Italian
     revolutionary group Potere Operaio (Workers' Power) and is
     currently serving a prison sentence in Rebibbia prison, Rome. 
     Negri gave himself up on 1 July 1997 after 14 years' exile in
     Paris in a bid to close a chapter in his own personal "judicial
     history" and that of other far-left militants still in exile. 
     Originally sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment for "armed
     insurrection against the state" and to four and a half years for
     "moral responsibility" for the clashes between revolutionary
     activists and police in Milan between 1973 and 1977, he
     theoretically still has over four years to serve. Waiting for a
     general remission (indulto) from the Italian parliament which has
     not as yet materialised, he was authorised to work on day-release
     at the end of July. In the following article, he recalls the
     political experience of the 1970s in Italy

     by TONI NEGRI *

     To speak of what the 1970s represented in Italy's political
     history is to speak also of the present. In part, because the
     consequences of the repressive policies of those years are still
     very much with us. The Special Laws have not been repealed, at
     least 200 people are still in prison and about the same number
     are living their lives in exile(1). Also, because the
     disintegration of the post-war political system, shattered to
     pieces by the fall of the Berlin Wall, had reached intolerable
     limits. But above all, because the social (and psychological)
     traumas of that decade have still not been healed or distanced. 

     The 1970s are still with us in the sense that they posed for
     Italy the problem of how to arrive at models of democratic
     representation in a context in which the social modes of
     production are being transformed. This is a central problem for
     advanced capitalist societies and it has still not been resolved.
     In Italy, the way in which that problem presented itself took a
     distinctly tragic turn. 

     All the political forces that were involved in this drama were,
     in the end, defeated. Two writers have done more than anyone else
     to describe the roots of this tragedy: Leonardo Sciascia (2) and
     Rossana Rossanda (3). Sciascia was an able chronicler of events
     and revealed to the world the labyrinthine inner workings of the
     crisis; Rossanda, maintaining her political commitment
     throughout, reported every day on the desperate powerlessness of
     the protagonists to reach any kind of solution. 

     In Italy, the 1970s actually began in 1967-68 and ended in 1983.
     In 1967-68, as in all the developed countries, the student
     movement took to the barricades. However, the breadth and impact
     of this part of the movement was not as extensive as in other
     European countries: in Italy, the student May 1968 was not a
     particularly significant moment. 

     But the same cannot be said of the broader picture: in effect,
     the movement opened a breach in the system of power, and into
     this breach was swallowed, in successive waves, the social
     movement that developed in protest against a system which was
     increasingly falling behind in modernising capitalism, and was
     repressing the democratic potential inherited from the
     anti-fascist struggle and the Resistance. 

     What happened then was that, after the students, other social
     protagonists emerged to make their mark on the political scene.
     For example, 1969 was the year of the factory working class, with
     new Factory Councils (consigli di fabbrica) emerging, an
     egalitarian movement fighting for equal wage rises for all, and a
     deregulation of capitalist policy towards the labour market. This
     phase of struggle was crowned by the achievement of the statuto
     dei lavoratori ("workers' statute"). Immediately after this, came
     the legalisation of divorce, the implementation of regional
     decentralisation, the recognition of conscientious objection and
     large numbers of legislative innovations which "unfroze" the old
     post-war society. In other words, there were a variety of
     institutional responses to the continuous unfolding of struggles
     - not only of students or factory workers - that had been opened
     by 1968. 

     The "strategy of tension" 

     In around 1973-74, the framework began to change. Up till that
     point, the relationship between the social movements and the
     "left" as a totality had, despite passing difficulties, been
     essentially dialectical. After the oil crisis of 1973 and the
     first capitalist counter-offensives, things changed. The Italian
     parliamentary left broke off dialogue with the new social forces,
     and the majority component of that left, the Italian Communist
     Party (PCI), proposed a "historic compromise" (compromesso
     storico) with its long-time adversaries, the Christian Democrats

     Now, it is worth remembering that the Italian political system of
     that time was characterised, for reasons related to Italy's
     position within the cold war scenario (4), as an "imperfect
     two-party system" (bipartitismo imperfetto). In other words, in
     the normal run of parliamentary life, there was a convention that
     the PCI was to be excluded: whatever gains it may have made in
     electoral terms, the party of Enrico Berlinguer (5) was excluded
     from power, and that power was conceived as remaining in the
     hands of the Christian Democracy, ostensibly a bastion of Western
     values. However, despite this institutional constraint, the DC
     and the PCI had contrived to create a system of power which made
     possible a degree of equilibrium, and which offered a chance of
     moderating social conflicts when they broke out. Thus, alongside
     this "imperfect two-party system" we had what was called at the
     time an "imperfect co-associationism" (coassociativismo

     At the start of the 1970s, building on the base of a growing
     electoral power which it was acquiring from the development of
     these social movements, the PCI decided that it was time for it
     to play a bigger role in the parliamentary majority. From now on,
     it presented itself not merely as a "party of struggle", but as a
     "party of struggle and government". From 1973-74 onwards,
     parliament appeared to be operating on this basis with a degree
     of unanimity. In 1978 the PCI went so far as to offer active
     support to the new government. And in so doing, it was to step
     down from the last remaining controlling functions which were
     assigned to it under the "imperfect two-party system", as the
     political representative of the opposition. The
     "co-associationism" became "perfect". 

     The four years from 1974 to 1978 saw a progressive tightening of
     the alliance between the DC and the PCI: this alliance extended
     outwards from government and parliament to the whole system of
     power, from the central administration out to the periphery, to
     the trade unions, to the running of communications and the media
     and even, remarkably, to the police. However, at the same time
     Italy's broadly-based social struggles were becoming more intense
     and the social movements broke definitively with all forms of
     institutional representation. We should not forget that these
     were battles of enormous extent and massive intensity. 

     Beyond the simple exercise of that "counter-power" which they had
     embodied since 1968, the social movements were also nurtured by
     the consequences of Italy's monetary deflation policies and by
     the industrial restructuring through which an initial - but
     definitive - "emergence from Fordism" was taking place, in terms
     of Italy's systems of manufacture and production. As it happened,
     the "historic compromise" was built around precisely these
     "austerity policies" against which the social protest movements
     were being organised. 

     Thus, when the repression - repression by the employers in the
     factories and repression by the police in society as a whole,
     making use of a whole new range of laws - stepped over the line
     and went beyond the bounds of democracy, the resistance in turn
     began to arm itself. The Red Brigades, for instance, initially
     emerged from among workers in the large factories in the north,
     which had been subjected to savage restructuring (6); and it was
     in these same factories, or in the communities associated with
     them, that practices of "proletarian justice", sometimes at the
     mass level and sometimes clandestine, began to appear. 

     A further independent and over-determined variable should be
     added to this interweaving of social and political components,
     which from this point onwards was continuously being crossed and
     recrossed by an uninterrupted series of working-class struggles
     and manifestations of urban violence. This new element was the
     direct provocation - for which I would argue that the only
     appropriate term is "terrorism" - on the part of the state organs
     charged with maintaining NATO interests before, during and after
     the "historic compromise". 

     After the Milan bombing of 1969, terrorist operations by these
     state apparatuses continued, year after year, and included the
     bombing of demonstrations and public meetings, and the bombing of
     trains and stations, which culminated in the appalling Bologna
     bombing in 1980 (7). (To date not one of the perpetrators or
     organisers of these massacres has been imprisoned). Criminal
     actions of this kind obviously added fuel to the fires of a
     Resistance which was only fighting for the right to
     self-expression, and had the means to do so. 

     In 1977, the movement experienced a major flare-up in Bologna, a
     city which was a showcase for the Communist Party's municipal
     policies. At the end of a demonstration, yet another left-wing
     militant was killed by the police. Rioting broke out. The
     communist mayor and the "historic compromise" government sent
     armoured cars to sweep away the barricades. In that same period,
     the national secretary of the communist trade union (CGIL) was
     chased off the campus of the University of Rome, after violent
     clashes, by a mass student movement which by then had extended to
     include the urban proletariat. 

     In Milan, Turin, Naples and Padova, there were huge marches
     during which, more and more frequently, armed extremist groupings
     began to appear. They let it be known that they saw themselves as
     valid components of the movement. Among the working class and the
     urban proletarian movements, the resistance against restructuring
     was growing irresistibly, within a climate of massive resentment
     towards what people saw as betrayal by the official left. By this
     time, Italy was virtually in a state of civil war. None of the
     actors was any longer in control and this was a tragedy that was
     to end in defeat. For everybody. 

     The first to be defeated were the social movements. Having cut
     themselves off totally from the representatives of the
     traditional left, which proved incapable of either providing
     adequate political forms for the expression of counter-power or
     of controlling it, the social movements were thus dragged into
     the abyss of an extremism that was becoming increasingly blind
     and violent. The kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro (8) was the
     beginning of the end for a movement which, in advancing its
     military objectives, had lost the ability to assess the political
     consequences of its actions. Caught in the grip of this crisis,
     the political process which had created a substantial social
     stratum of hundreds of thousands of activists and militants was
     soon to be dissolved by a massive and powerful repression. 

     The political forces which embodied the "historic compromise"
     were also searching for a way out of the social isolation in
     which they now found themselves, but they did it by opting for
     policies of repression pure and simple. They won, but it turned
     out to be a Pyrrhic victory. We had the introduction of special
     police, special prisons, special courts and trials, and special
     emergency measures imposed by the government: what was
     effectively a state of emergency ended by reshaping - and adding
     to the isolation of - the constitutional structure of a political
     system that had already been butchered by the previous realities
     of "imperfect bipartitism". 

     All this had dramatic consquences. The first to suffer was the
     PCI. In the years that followed, it came to be at the mercy of
     the right and experienced a continuous decline in its electoral
     support. At the same time, it failed to re-establish any kind of
     contact with the social movements, which by then had become
     politically marginalised. The Communist Party was to become
     something which in its original glorious history it had never
     previously been: a bureaucratic grouping, cut off from society
     and locked into the machinery of power. The Christian Democrat
     party, for its part, lost its central constitutional position
     during the course of these developments. It became
     inward-looking, concentrating on maintaining its local power
     bases, and it was no longer capable of providing the means for an
     understanding of the social and productive landscape from within
     which the crisis had been created. It fell to the (socialist)
     government of Bettino Craxi, which came to power in 1983, to
     transform the isolation of the political classes into a massive
     machinery of corruption and degradation of society and the state.
     The 1970s had come to an end. 

     It is worth asking whether the 1970s could have created a
     different outcome in the political situation and within the
     political system of the time. The answer is yes, but only on one
     condition: if there had been at that moment a mode of political
     representation capable of absorbing the consequences of the very
     profound social transformations that the movements were imposing.
     No such thing existed at the time and subsequently the problem
     was not posed. 

     Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the radical restructuring
     of the framework of Italy's parliamentary and political life, the
     only impulses towards constitutional change that have emerged in
     Italy (which, incidentally, have proved to be unrealisable, as is
     confirmed by the constitutional reform project outlined by the
     Bicameral Commission (9)) have focused on the upper echelons (on
     changes in the presidential system) and, consequently, on the
     setting-up of increasingly efficient and centralised instruments
     of pre-emption, mediation and repression. There have been no
     proposals for new forms of political representation or new
     channels for substantive democracy. As for the activity of the
     government, given the present realities of the Second Republic,
     it has been concerned essentially with neutralising social
     conflict and ensuring the compatibility of Italy's system with
     the "world market". 

     The defeat of the movement of the 1970s - a defeat which was both
     political (as in other European countries) and also military -
     has not even remotely opened the way for a democratic renewal. It
     is appropriate for those who were involved in those movements
     (10) to bemoan their own tactical naivety and despair of their
     strategic illusions, but they nevertheless have the right to
     observe that the problem that we represented still exists. Today,
     more than ever, Italy needs to rediscover the democratic values
     that we were experimenting with in those years. 

     *Author of Revolution Retrieved, Red Notes, London 1979; The
     Politics of Subversion, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1989; and The
     Savage Anomaly, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1991.
     While in France, Toni Negri lectured at the Ecole normale
     superieure in rue d'Ulm, and taught at the University of
     Paris-VIII and the International College of Philosophy. 

                                              Translated by Ed Emery 

     (1) See Anne Schimel "Justice de plombe en Italie", Le Monde
     diplomatique, April 1998. 

     (2) The writer, chronicler and journalist Leonardo Sciascia
     (1921-89) observed Italian society, writing from his native
     Sicily; his works include The Day of the Owl, To Each His Own and
     The Night and Death, all published by Carcanet, London. 

     (3) Together with Luigi Pintor, Rossana Rossanda was the founder
     of the Rome-based daily Il Manifesto, of which she is still the
     editor today. 

     (4) See Francois Vitrani, "L'Italie, un Etat de 'souvranete
     limite'?", Le Monde diplomatique, December 1990. 

     (5) Enrico Berlinguer followed Palmiro Togliatti and Luigi Longo
     to become the third general secretary of the PCI in the post-war
     period. After General Pinochet's coup d'etat in Chile, he put
     forward the notion of the "historic compromise" (1973) and,
     within Europe, created a "Eurocommunist" line that countered that
     of Moscow. 

     (6) The Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades) were, like Prima Linea
     (Front Line, 1976-80), armed organisations of the far left.
     Operating at a more general political level were organisations
     such as Lotta Continua (Fight On, 1969-76), Potere Operaio
     (Workers' Power, 1969-73), Autonomia Operaia (Workers' Autonomy)

     (7) The explosion of a bomb at the Agricultural Bank in Piazza
     Fontana, Milan, on 12 December 1969 (with 16 dead and 98 wounded)
     marked the start of the "strategy of tension" which was to
     culminate in the bombing of Bologna Central Station on 2 August
     1980 (85 dead and 200 wounded). In both these cases, as the legal
     authorities subsequently confirmed, the authors of this blind
     terrorism were the far right. According to statistics from the
     Italian ministry of interior, 67.55% of violence ("affrays,
     guerrilla actions and destruction of property") committed in
     Italy between 1969 and 1980 were attributable to the far right,
     26.5% to the far left, and 5.95% to others. 

     (8) At the moment of his kidnapping on 16 March 1978, Aldo Moro,
     the president of the Christian Democrat Party, was negotiating
     with Enrico Berlinguer on possible ways of bringing the PCI more
     fully into government. 

     (9) The aim of the Bicameral Commission, under the presidency of
     Massimo D'Alema, the head of the Party of Left Democracy
     (ex-PCI), was to open negotiations for a constitutional reform
     project which would lead, among other things, to universal
     suffrage elections for the presidency of the republic and changes
     in Italy's electoral system. Its work was terminated in May 1998
     after a U-turn by Forza Italia's Silvio Berlusconi, who at one
     time had endorsed the project. 

     (10) There is an English-language website dedicated to the
     amnesty campaign and the political writings of Toni Negri:

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED c 1998 Le Monde diplomatique 

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