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Terror in Italy: An Exchange

To the Editors:

In Thomas Sheehan’s review of several books on the New Left in “Italy: Behind the Ski Mask” (NYR, August 16), one reads that “he [A. Negri] founded [with R. Panzieri, M. Tronti, and A. Asor Rosa] the radical journal Quaderni Rossi.” As far as Professor Negri is concerned, this is an error of fact widely circulated in recent times in Italy too. Professor Negri joined the Quaderni Rossi subsequently and for a short time, as can be seen from the composition of the editorial committee of the journal: No. 1, 1961 (Negri not yet in); Nos. 2-3, 1962-63 (Negri in); No. 4, 1964 (Negri out). Photocopies are enclosed for documentation.

Armando De Palma

University of Turin

To the Editors:

Professor Sheehan’s article on Toni Negri and leftist terrorism in Italy contains an astonishing translation error: the ultraleft movement known as “Autonomia Operaia,” meaning “Workers’ Autonomy,” is called “Organized Autonomy,” which is absurd. I found the substance of the article every bit as flawed in its comprehension of Italian realities as the failure to correctly identify “Autonomia Operaia” would suggest.

Paul M. Howell

Oakland, California

To the Editors:

There is an American postscript to Thomas Sheehan’s review of Negri and Acquaviva. The only “evidence” connecting Toni Negri and Giuseppe Nicotri to the Moro assassination was a tape recording of a conversation between one of the kidnappers and Moro’s widow. A German police technician announced that the voice on the tape was Negri’s. The hue and cry that followed, questioning the possibility that a German cop was able to distinguish between Italian dialects, etc., forced the Italian prosecution to back off and try another tack. They employed a voice print expert at Michigan State University, Oscar Tosi, to attempt to make the identification. An Italian judge and a prosecutor were sent to East Lansing, Michigan, to supervise the tests.

Together with Toni Negri, I brought suit, as a citizen of Michigan, to enjoin the tests (Antonio Negri and Martin Glaberman vs. Rosario Priore and Oscar Tosi). The reasons were that the procedures being followed by the Italian government were in violation of Italian law, of international law, and of American law. The tests would have been conducted in a manner which would have left Tosi free of any restraints, since they were not under the supervision directly of any court. The normal procedure, required both by Italian and American law, is that when testimony is required to be taken in a foreign country, the courts of that country are formally requested to take jurisdiction over the testimony, so that it can be given under oath. The United States has just followed that procedure in Romania in a case against someone being charged with falsifying their past connection with Nazi war crimes in Romania.

We have won this case. Thomas L. Brown, Judge of the Circuit Court of Ingham County, Michigan, has granted an injunction prohibiting Tosi “from transmitting, sending, mailing, or otherwise revealing directly or indirectly to any person or court the final evaluation, judgment or report…pertaining to the pending criminal charges against the Plaintiff ANTONIO NEGRI in the Roman Court.”

I understand that the charges against Nicotri have been dropped for lack of evidence—although the only evidence was the tape which has yet to be analyzed. I was also informed that the Italian government is requesting Tosi to conduct his tests on equipment available at the University of Padua. All of this seems to confirm the shaky nature of the evidence and the unwillingness of the prosecution to conduct the voice print tests in a legal manner, preserving the rights of the defense, in the first place.

I have known Toni Negri since 1964, when we met at the University of Padua. I have many disagreements with his theories and his formulations. But I am certain that he is innocent of any complicity with the Moro assassination and/or the Red Brigades. And I am also certain that he deserves a trial that is fairer than the Italian government seems to be willing to give him.

It was unfortunate that Sheehan’s article blurred the distinction between violence and terror. There is a long list of revolutionaries, going back beyond Marx, who accepted the need or the inevitability of violence during the course of social revolution. No serious student of politics or of history would call them terrorists. The charges against the “Autonomistas” [sic] are largely based on the written and spoken word—that is, acts which would be protected by the Bill of Rights under American law. That is not to say, of course, that those acts would be protected against McCarthyite witchhunts here any more than in Italy. The defense against the current Italian witchhunt, in the United States, is being organized by the Committee Against Repression in Italy, 159 West 33rd Street, Room 1010, New York, NY 10001.

Martin Glaberman

Wayne State University

Detroit, Michigan

Thomas Sheehan replies:

I welcome Professor De Palma’s corrections to my article, just as I would welcome those of Mr. Howell, had he any to offer. Mr. Howell would do well to take BART from Oakland to San Francisco and read some newspapers from Italy. He would find the phrase Autonomia organizzata constantly used instead of the more cumbersome Autonomia operaia organizzata. I followed that usage when I spoke of “Organized Autonomy.”

Professor Glaberman accuses me of blurring the distinction between (legitimate) violence and (illegitimate) terrorism. But if I made an error, I would, to correct it, need from him some concrete clarifications about the actual Italian situation. Is it terror or merely violence when autonomists put a fire bomb in the gas tank of a Rome bus during rush hour? or burn stores and bomb buildings in Padua? or threaten to destroy the offices of “anti-proletarian” professors? or kill a policeman in Milan? And if the distinction between violence and terrorism can be made, does it apply equally to neofascists’ acts done in the name of their revolution? For my part I think it is the autonomists, and not I, who have blurred the distinction. In any case those who want to consult Negri in English on the subject can now read Domination and Sabotage in two different translations: a complete translation put out by STRIKE Press in Toronto (but, because it was confiscated by the Canadian authorities, now distributed by WW3 Books, 3 Bleecker Street, NYC); and an incomplete translation to be found, with other writings, in the anthology Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis put out by CSE Books, 55 Mount Pleasant, London WC1.

Events have accelerated in Italy since last July, and I can only allude to some of them here. After murdering a colonel of the carabinieri in Rome on July 17, the Red Brigades went underground for four months, only to emerge with unprecedented fury this winter. During November they assassinated three policemen, and shot two bazooka missiles at police cars in Turin, fortunately without killing anyone. On December 12 terrorists took over a business school in Turin, held two hundred teachers and students at bay, tied up ten of them, and coolly shot them in the legs. Three days later they shot seven bullets into the legs of a Fiat foreman, pistol-whipped two other Fiat workers, and made off with a $600,000 payroll. In Milan on January 8 they machine-gunned three policemen to death. On January 26 in a space of an hour and a half, urban guerrillas carried out twelve different firebombing attacks on such targets as Christian Democratic headquarters, police barracks, telephone offices, and buses.

The authorities have also been at work. Franco Piperno was arrested in Paris on August 17, 1979, and extradited to Italy on October 17 to stand trial for the murder of Aldo Moro. In early November Daniele Pifano, the leader of a Rome Autonomist group, was apprehended along with two companions in possession of two Russian-made ground-to-air missile launchers. Pifano claims he was only transporting the weapons through Italy for consignment to the PLO. On November 15 the police arrested Lucia Reggiana, 31, a social worker in Rome’s Ministry of Justice, and charged her with being the “mole” who informed on the movements of Judge Girolamo Tartaglione, who was assassinated in October, 1978.

On December 15, 1979, the Italian government decreed severe emergency measures against terrorism: police may hold suspects up to forty-eight hours without a lawyer; suspects can be held up to twelve years without trial; life imprisonment is mandatory for those convicted of murdering judges, policemen, lawyers, union officials, and court witnesses; General Alberto Dalla Chiesa of the carabinieri now has sweeping and quasi-military powers of search and seizure in northern Italy.

The first fruits of these draconian and widely disputed measures was a blitz of arrests just before Christmas. The dragnet brought in, to everyone’s surprise, Caterina Pilenga, 49, a program director for the Italian national television, Mauro Borromeo, 50, an administrative director of the Catholic University of Milan, and Gianfranco Gavazzeni—son of the well-known orchestra director—who is accused of bankrolling the purchase of a stock of Skorpion machine guns, the kind used to kill Moro.

These arrests were based on the startling revelations made by Carlo Fioroni, 38, the “repentant Brigadist.” Fioroni is now serving twenty-seven years in jail for the murder of the 26-year-old chemical engineer and leftist sympathizer, Carlo Saronio. On April 14, 1975, Saronio allowed himself to be kidnapped by underground leftists—who had hired common criminals as operatives in return for a 50-50 split of the take—so as to raise ransom money from his well-to-do family that would be used for revolutionary activities. However, Saronio’s kidnappers murdered him. (Negri has recently been indicted for this). Shortly after, Fioroni was apprehended in Lugano as he tried to launder 67 million out of the 470 million lire received in ransom. After almost five years in prison he has decided, as Italian papers put it, to play the role of the “Joe Valachi of terrorism.”

According to leaks of Fioroni’s testimony, published by Corriere della Sera on December 27, 1979 (the newspaper has since been taken to court for violating judicial secrets), Fioroni has provided the definitive information that links Antonio Negri to Renato Curcio, founder of the Red Brigades. Between 1971 and 1974, Fioroni has testified, Negri and Curcio met at least five times to plan a single revolutionary organization with both aboveground (Potere operaio, later Autonomia) and clandestine wings. The conspiracy, according to Fioroni, involved the noted Milanese publisher, Glangiacomo Feltrinelli, and his subversive organization GAP (Gruppi d’azione partigiana), at least until March 14, 1972, when Feltrinelli blew himself up while trying to plant a bomb at an electricity pylon near the town of Segrate. The clandestine wing used a variety of names (Lavoro illegale, Faro, Centro Nord, Prima linea, Brigate rosse, etc.—by 1977 there were 160 such names) to claim responsibility for terrorist acts, but all were part of a single organization.

Fioroni’s information stops at the point of 1975 when he was jailed. Thus the crucial last five years of terrorism in Italy are not discussed in his confession. He does point to grave differences between Negri and Curcio going back at least to June, 1974, when the Red Brigades murdered two neo-fascist youths in Padua. Negri wanted the Brigades to admit publicly that this had been an error and then to abandon their terrorism and take up a more “social” struggle, closer to the daily needs of the workers. Curcio refused. This may mark the schism between Negri and the Red Brigades and may be the root of the split in the Red Brigades between the extreme Stalinist wing and the more moderate “workerist” wing composed of such dissidents as Valerio Morucci and Adriana Faranda, both arrested last May. The split broke out into the open on July 25, 1979, when the leftist paper Lotta Continua published a long document that had been left anonymously at their offices by “workerist” Brigadists and that severely criticized Curcio and other hard-line Brigadists for pursuing a terrorist policy of “provocation.” On August 10, 1979, Curcio responded from jail with an excommunication both of the “workerist” Brigades and of Toni Negri.

The telephone call that Negri allegedly made to the Moro home on April 30, 1978, continues to make the front page. On November 16, 1979, Professor Oscar Tosi reported to the Roman magistrates (whether on the basis of tests made in America or in Italy, I do not know) that it was 80 percent sure that Negri had made the call. But three Italian experts appointed by the court (Professors Ibba, Paoloni, and Piazza) affirm more cautiously that Negri’s voice and that of the unknown Brigadist whom the police taperecorded “belong to the same class of voices…without excluding the possibility that they can be attributed to the same speaker.” The January 20, 1980 issue of the weekly L’Espresso provided its readers with a macabre gift: a plastic-wrapped 33 1/3 RPM record containing the April 30 phone call plus the sentences Negri recorded in prison for the sake of the voice test. The record also contains the final phone call made by the Red Brigades revealing the place where Moro’s body had been left. The record is entitled Fate voi la perizia fonica: “You make the voice test.” On January 18 the director of L’Espresso, Livio Zanetti, was indicted for “revealing official secrets.”

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