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Italy: Behind the Ski Mask

Guerriglia e guerra rivoluzionaria in Italia [Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy]

by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rizzoli (Milan), 179 pp., 5,500 Lire

II seme religioso della rivolta [The Religious Seed of Revolt]

by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rusconi (Milan), 151 pp., 3,000 Lire

Marx oltre Marx: Quaderno di lavoro sui Grundrisse [Marx Beyond Marx: A Workbook on the Grundrisse]

by Antonio Negri
Feltrinelli (Milan), 197 pp., 5,500 Lire

La fabbrica della strategia: 33 lezioni su Lenin [The Factory of Strategy: 33 Lectures on Lenin]

by Antonio Negri
Cleup (University of Padua Press), 223 pp., 5,500 Lire

II dominio e il sabotaggio: Sul methodo marxista della trasformazione sociale [Domination and Sabotage: On the Marxist Method of Social Transformation]

by Antonio Negri
Feltrinelli (Milan), 72 pp., 1,300 Lire

In Rome, on the morning of May 3, while tourists sipped cappuccino in nearby Piazza Navona, a well-dressed young woman entered the regional head-quarters of the Christian Democratic Party, distracted an armed guard with a question, and, suddenly joined by a dozen other Red Brigadists, held the office at gunpoint. They carried out the raid with speed and precision: files ransacked, time bombs planted, the walls riddled with bullets. Outside, other terrorists standing guard strafed an arriving police car with machine-gun bursts, killing one agent instantly and wounding two others, one of them mortally.

For over fifteen minutes, as bombs exploded inside the office, scores of policemen surrounded the building and raked it with gunfire. But somehow the Brigadists disappeared, some in stolen cars, others apparently by slipping into the gathering crowd. The communiqué they released a few days later only expressed what any Italian will tell you: “The assault on one of the most important and well-guarded structures in the city has shown once again that no place and no person, no matter how well protected, are immune to the sophistication of guerrilla warfare.”

But the myth of invincibility that surrounds the Red Brigades may be crumbling. One of their weaknesses is a passion for keeping archives on their membership and activities, perhaps with an eye to future history books but in any case to the great advantage of the carabinieri who continue to close in on them. Within a month of the spectacular terrorist raid and after dozens of arrests in northern Italy, the police broke into a middle-class Rome apartment that had been turned into an arsenal and arrested Red Brigadists Valerio Morucci, thirty years old, and Adriana Faranda, twenty-nine years old, both of whom had been sought for the murder of Aldo Moro as well as for the recent raid. In the apartment were found (accounts vary) four detonators, two bullet-proof vests, five pistols, hundreds of bullets, and two machine guns, one of them the Czech-made Skorpion that ballistics experts have since identified as the weapon that killed the two policemen in the raid, as well as two Italian magistrates—and Aldo Moro. Among incriminating documents found in the hide-out were original drafts of terrorist manifestoes and lists of the names, addresses, and daily habits of various political figures. Morucci and Faranda face charges of murder and insurrection that could lead to life imprisonment.

However, the most controversial arrest in the recent antiterrorism campaign has been that of Antonio (Toni) Negri, forty-six-year-old political science professor at the University of Padua, visiting lecturer at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, and self-proclaimed Marxist revolutionary. On April 7, to the surprise of everyone, he was jailed and charged with directing the Red Brigades, master-minding the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro, and plotting the overthrow of the government. With the seizure of Negri and a dozen of his colleagues at Padua, the police say they have put their hands on the Strategic Directory of the Red Brigades.

The kernel of the prosecution’s much-contested case is that Negri is the New Left’s Scarlet Pimpernel, at one and the same time the head of the leading aboveground radical group called Organized Autonomy (this much is public knowledge) as well as of the underground Red Brigades. The prosecution claims to have evidence—none of which has been made public—that Negri drafted documents issued by the Brigades, that he personally telephoned Mrs. Moro on April 30, 1978, with an ultimatum from the terrorists, and that he plotted the final fate of the president of the Christian Democrats.

Negri is a figure of some stature in Italy, and his arrest might be compared, imperfectly, to jailing Herbert Marcuse a decade ago on suspicion of being the brains behind the Weathermen. The matter has become a cause célèbre in Europe. Le Comité des intellectuels pour l’Europe des libertés, led by Raymond Aron and Eugène Ionesco, has decided to send a group of lawyers to observe Negri’s trial. (Given the nature of the Italian judicial system, this could lie years in the future.) Gilles Deleuze, the author of L’Anti-Oedipe, has disputed the charges in “An Open Letter to Negri’s Judges,”1 while his coauthor, Félix Guattari, who praises Negri’s “extreme intellectual rigor,” is circulating a petition of support among French intellectuals. Michel Foucault, whom Negri often quotes, has declined to add his name until he can personally interview Negri, but the Italian authorities have refused him access to the prisoner. Louis Althusser, who brought Negri to the Ecole Normale in 1977-1978, has so far refused to sign, for reasons that are not yet clear.

In late June after one member of Organized Autonomy had hanged himself in jail, Negri and others began a hunger strike to protest the indefinite delay of their trial and the prosecution’s refusal to present concrete evidence against them. On July 7 over 250 intellectuals and politicians published “An International Appeal” to Italian president Sandro Pertini. Among the signers were sixteen Americans, including Nobel Prize-winner George Wald and the Marxist economists Paul Sweezy and James O’Connor. They deplored the treatment of the prisoners and called for a speedy trial that would put an end to the hunger strike.

Could the professor have really led a double life, or, as his defenders claim, has the government simply arrested his radical ideas? It may be no coincidence that Negri, who is a bitter opponent of the Italian Communist Party (PCI), was arrested just as the recent election campaign was getting under way (and by a magistrate, Pietro Calogero, who is a strong Party sympathizer) even though his revolutionary ideas have been in print for ten years. It has been suggested that the PCI hoped to prevent a drop in electoral support this June by showing that the Red Brigades were “made in Italy” and had no Eastern European connections. Another popular theory holds that the Christian Democrats hoped to gain sympathy votes by bringing the Moro affair back onto the front pages. In fact, both parties lost support in relation to the 1976 national elections. The Christian Democrats dropped a fraction of a point rather than gaining the 3 or 4 percent that the polls had predicted. The PCI lost a striking 4 percent, much of it among younger voters, their first national setback in thirty-one years.2

Carefully planted leaks of the pretrial interrogation of Negri indicate that, along with specific questions about the Moro affair, his prosecutors are leading him through the complex history of the extreme left in Italy and eliciting subtle interpretations of his own writings. There is method in such a procedure, for the questions of who Negri is, how he developed his own brand of Marxism, and why he was arrested are to a large degree bound up with the evolution of Italy’s radical left movement over the last ten years.

Negri’s career as a revolutionary can be traced back to Padua twenty-five years ago when, as a pious Catholic philosophy student, he joined Catholic Action and became a Marxist at the same time. He was expelled from Catholic Action in 1954 when Pope Pius XII cracked down on its progressive spokesman, Mario Rossi. He then joined the liberal Catholic group called Intesa, but abandoned it in 1958 when the bishop of Padua tried to rein in its socialist tendencies. His friends from that period recall that he then left the city to do social work in Sicily with Danilo Dolci, the “apostle of the disinherited.” But he soon returned to the university where he took a doctorate in moral philosophy, assumed a teaching position in the philosophy of law, and produced in rapid succession an impressive list of works on Hegel and German historicism.3

After briefly joining the Socialist Party, he spent the 1960s moving to the far left in the company of such prominent intellectuals as Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti, and Alberto Asor Rosa, with whom he founded the radical journal Quaderni Rossi, the organ of the New Left that was taking shape outside the PCI. Negri’s base of operation was the University of Padua, where student activism was the strongest in Italy, and 1968 was the turning point. Now a full professor, Negri broke with his former allies, who were finding their way into the PCI, and with the orthodox communist view of the Party’s predominant role in leading the proletariat. Instead he called for a revolution “from below” and embraced as the new agent of this revolutionary change the growing number of student radicals, marginalized youth, and semi-employed workers of northern Italy. Many of them gravitated toward the group Potere Operaio (Worker Power) which, by the early 1970s, boasted 4,000 members and 1,000 militants. Toni Negri became its theoretician-in-chief.

Crucial to the prosecution’s case is the nature and intent of Negri’s actions when Potere Operaio dissolved in the summer of 1973. Two opposing lines had developed within the movement. One, led by Franco Piperno and Oreste Scalzone, now respectively underground and under arrest, wanted to organize PO along the strict lines of Leninist centralism and to guide the movement toward imminent insurrection. The other, led by Negri, advocated dissolving the organization into diffuse Autonomia—loosely connected groups of students and workers who claimed “autonomy” or independence not only from capitalist society but from the PCI and the unions as well. These would “go among the people” to create mass support for a revolution that still lay somewhat in the future.

Negri won and launched the extreme left upon its second phase. The prosecution now claims that the dissolution of PO was only a clever smokescreen to hide the birth of a single subversive organization with two wings, both of them directed by Negri. The first wing is the legal, if radically militant, Organized Autonomy (the major autonomist group, centered in Padua), dedicated to “destructuring” the capitalist system by mass social agitation. The second wing is the clandestine Red Brigades, devoted to the task of “destabilizing” the government by a militaristic “attack on the heart of the state.” Negri brands the charge as absurd and refers the judges to his frequent and bitter criticism of the Red Brigades. He calls them a “madness” within the revolutionary movement, a group of thoughtless “militarists” who “shoot in vain” and seek to overthrow the government without any roots in the social and political needs of the masses.4

Between 1974 and 1977 groups of Autonomia quickly sprang up in northern and central Italy. Since the early 1970s the Italian university system had been suffering from virtual collapse. The number of students grew to over a million (the University of Rome serves four times the number of students it was built for), and the prospects for jobs after graduation shrank dramatically. Autonomia found fertile soil among these discontented youths confined to universities which Alberto Ronchey has described as “social parking lots,” as well as among workers hard hit by a declining economy. The movement also took root among the “metropolitan Indians” and frichettoni (freaks) of the counterculture who discovered in a vaguely understood Marxism the theoretical justification for their rejection of society. What bound these groups together was a repudiation of the work ethic, of alienated labor (this is the meaning of their slogan, il rifiuto del lavoro), and of the PCI’s separation, so they claim, of the revolutionary process from personal development and enrichment. In what was more a state of mind than a program they called for the destruction of all power, beginning with the state, and the assertion of radical needs for community and personal fulfillment that no existing system, whether capitalist or socialist, could supply.

  1. 1

    La Repubblica (Rome, May 10, 1979.

  2. 2

    The significance of the June 3 elections, which were marred by the largest percentage of absenteeism and blank ballots since World War II, is still being debated. Much of the younger vote apparently went to renegade Marco Pannella’s Radical Party, which ran on a hodgepodge of issues from solar energy to nonviolence. The fence-straddling Socialists held firm at 10 percent of the popular vote. On July 10, President Pertini, for the first time in Italian history, gave the task of forming a new government to a Socialist leader, Bettino Craxi. He will try, without much prospect of success, to work out an agreement between the Christian Democrats and the Communists. A more likely outcome of the current confusion is that the Christian Democrats would eventually form a government with two of the “lay” parties, the Republicans and the Social Democrats, while the PCI would cease supporting the government and go into opposition.

  3. 3

    Stato e diritto nel giovane Hegel (Padua: Cedam, 1958), Saggi sul storicismo tedesco: Dilthey e Meinecke (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1959), Alle origini del formalismo giuridico (Padua: Cedam, 1962), and a translation of Hegel: Scritti di filosofia del diritto (Padua: Cedam, 1962).

  4. 4

    For example, his Dall’operaio massa all’operaio sociale: Intervista sull’operaismo (Milan: Multhipla, 1979), pp. 27-29.

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