Antonio Negri
Antonio Negri; drawing by David Levine

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.

This was also the period when the Red Brigades began to get front page coverage with the startling kidnapping and release of a Genoa magistrate, Mario Sossi, in the spring of 1974. Soon after came the Red Brigades’ first kneecappings and murders, and the arrest, escape, and recapture of their then leader Renato Curcio.

Nineteen seventy-seven was the point of escalation, “the year of the gun,” as leftist poet and Autonomia sympathizer Nanni Balestrini put it. Now began the huge marches in Italy’s major cities, with hundreds of the participants wearing the passamontagna (a ski mask over the face) and more often than not with contropotere in tasca, “counterpower in the pocket,” the radicals’ euphemism for guns. A January shoot-out between protesting students and the Rome police left two members of Autonomia dead. On March 12 a masked youth stepped out of a protest march in downtown Rome, warned away reporters, and fired two wild shots toward the police. On April 21 a photographer caught this scene in Milan: As the police dispersed a protest rally, a fleeing youth, bandanna pulled up Western-style, turned and struck a Kojak pose—feet wide apart, both hands holding a pistol at arm’s length—and fired. A policeman fell dead.

Another line was crossed and pervasive terror began. One or two persons would frequently slip out of a side street or alley, shoot, and melt back into the crowd. “Kill a cop and go home for dinner,” as an editorial bitterly put it. Many of the left revolutionaries are hard to categorize. The members of the group called Prima Linea, as Robert Sole wrote in Le Monde, are often “semi-clandestine and can set off a stick of dynamite on Thursday, wound ‘a tool of imperialism’ in the legs on Friday, and on Saturday demonstrate in the streets dressed in a ski mask and red scarf.” The Red Brigades did their part that year with thirty-six kneecappings and one murder. On November 16, in broad daylight on a Turin street, they walked up to Carlo Casalegno—deputy editor of La Stampa and a former Resistance leader and a symbol of liberal antiterrorist journalism—shot him four times in the face and, as he lay on the ground, delivered the coup de grâce to his head.

By the end of 1977, after well over 2,000 terrorist attacks carried out by seventy-six different radical groups, the situation gave some signs of calming down. Then on March 16, 1978, came the stunning event in Rome’s Via Fani. As Aldo Moro was being driven to Parliament to inaugurate the first Italian government openly supported by the PCI, the Red Brigades gunned down his five guards and dragged him off to fifty-four days of imprisonment and “people’s trial” before murdering him on May 9.

Italy is still in a state of siege, and it is questionable whether the arrest of Morucci, Faranda, and the dozens of others now in custody will end the terrorism. Estimates of the number of guerrillas run from 800 underground with 10,000 semi-clandestine sympathizers to as many as 3,000 “combatants,” roughly the same number as that of partisans active in the Italian cities between September and March 1944.5 One night last April, as if to parade their talents for coordination, terrorists set off twenty-eight bombs within minutes of each other in various cities of northern Italy. After a relatively calm weekend last May the Monday dailies reported that seven cars belonging to Corriere della Sera had been firebombed in Milan and the car of an industrialist blown up in Naples.

The violence is not confined to the left. The neo-fascists, now stepping up their own terrorist campaign, dynamited the façade of Rome’s Regini Coeli prison, destroying over fifteen cars and a water main in the process, and two weeks later blew up a wing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile in Padua radicals circulated fliers inviting students to turn in the names of “antiproletarian” professors, who, if they are lucky, may only have their offices burned. Less fortunate ones, like the rector of the university, are shot in the legs. In mid-June Professor Fausto Cuocolo of the University of Genoa was kneecapped by two unmasked youths as he administered final examinations.

Given the pervasiveness of such terrorism in this most civilized of countries, one welcomes the efforts of Sabino S. Acquaviva, sociologist at the University of Padua and Visiting Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, to cut beneath the surface and to try to reach its underlying causes. He has undertaken to explain the ideology of the radical left in his Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy and to trace its social psychology in The Religious Seed of Revolt. The two books overlap and in a sense have their unnamed subject in Toni Negri himself, one of those “clamorous cases of people,” as Acquaviva puts it, “who began with a militant commitment to Catholic Action only to end up, in the space of a few years and via complex and troublesome intellectual odysseys, as militants or theoreticians in armed revolutionary groups.”

Acquaviva gives an interpretation of such political careers that is familiar in Italy but more sociological in approach than most. He emphasizes the general collapse of traditional values in the country after the war. In the late 1940s and 1950s, he argues, Italy broke its cultural fixation on the past—on the latinitas and romanitas exalted by the Fascists—and broke as well the domination of family and ecclesiastical authority over much of Italian life, particularly the attitudes of the young. Italy more and more became a society “tending to satisfy needs in as short a term as possible,” a situation familiar enough to viewers of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1959) and Antonioni’s dreary trilogy in the early 1960s. 6 Against this background Acquaviva traces how three major forces can be said to have created conditions favorable to the growth of radical Autonomia: the Catholic Church, the Communist Party, and the late-arriving but widely diffused counterculture.

By the end of the 1950s, Acquaviva argues, the Church found itself straddling a fault line that ran deeper than the Protestant Reformation. Even in tradition-bound Italy the years before the Second Vatican Council were filled with theological turmoil, much of it growing out of the vigorous discussion of Christian social doctrine in Catholic Action groups. Many young intellectuals, such as those who formed the Intesa group in which Negri was active, were inspired by the example of the French worker-priests and spoke of the need to shift the axis of religious commitment from an eternal “up above” to a historical and social “up ahead.” This desire, as Acquaviva puts it, to “realize the other world in this world” led many of them, especially those who had integrated “a mentality of mission, of struggle against the infidels,” to pass “from an exigency of Christian totality to one of Marxist totality, from a Catholic need for centralism to a Marxist one.” Acquaviva claims that one element of continuity between the Catholic ideology these activists abandoned and the revolutionary one they embraced is found in their strong sense of moralism.

I recall that some time ago a young revolutionary who still claimed to believe in God told me: “Some big politician wanted that highway built [near Padua], and it cost 1.5 trillion lire that could have been used for cardiac or dialysis centers which we still don’t have…. But the highway was worth more votes than a hospital or cardiac center, and therefore someone who could have been saved is dying because that road was built. Now who is the worse killer? I who shoot that politician and maybe prevent his crime from being repeated, or that politician who kills every day?”

Acquaviva finds a second element contributing to Autonomia in the crisis of identity that Italian Marxism has suffered in its long march from postwar Stalinism to present-day revisionism. Especially since 1973, when the PCI came out for the historic compromise with the Christian Democrats, many Italians have come to see the Party not as an adversary of capitalist society so much as a component of it, a moderate force for reforming the work ethic in Italy rather than a revolutionary movement to abolish it. For the Autonomists, the PCI hardly seems the place to enact the end of alienation that they take to be the promise of Marxism. For them, only the “refusal of work,” that is, absolute opposition to salaried labor, is true to the revolutionary spirit of Marx.

Here enters the third element, the counterculture of personal liberation and self-fulfillment. Before it is a political movement, Acquaviva notes, Autonomia is a will to enjoy life rather than to have to earn it, a radical rejection of any society which, instead of enriching its citizens, dominates and represses them with an ethical system that insists that value comes through uncreative work. For the Autonomists the key word (it is Negri’s) has become autovalorizzazione, which can be translated as falling somewhere between self-fulfillment and self-assertion. In this concept the personal and the political meet, and more often than not Dylan pipes the tune and Marx dances.

The new agent of revolution, they say, is no longer found simply in the underpaid factory worker but in all the alienated “social laborers” of the counterculture, the autonomi who choose to reject the Party and the labor union and to hitch their desire for personal fulfillment to the hope of extinguishing the state and achieving pure communism. For them the state is in a profound crisis and is presiding over its own demise. Any efforts to reform it, whether by liberalizing capitalism or achieving democratic socialism, only extend the alienating law of surplus value and prevent the attainment of a society dedicated to personal self-realization. Instead, the Autonomist demands the abolition rather than the reform of the state for the sake of realizing human needs beyond those of work.

When it comes to the Red Brigades and terrorism, Acquaviva ends up a pessimist. Capturing the presumed leaders of these groups, he says, is like cutting weeds that then spring up stronger than before. The diffused “membership” of Autonomia, much of it as broad as the audiences of underground radio stations that interrupt their rock music with “war bulletins” about “proletarian raids” (Radio Sherwood in Padua, Radio Onda Rossa in Rome), provides ample water for the revolutionary fish. Italy, he says, is no longer living through a period of sporadic terrorism, not even one of terrorism with mass support. It has slipped into real guerrilla warfare concentrated around well-organized nuclei that strike with precision and revolutionary logic. “Guerrilla warfare,” he concludes, “now exists, has deep roots, and is substantial. Italians will have to live with it for a long time. It is an aspect of our history in the last quarter of this century.”

While comprehensive and instructive, Acquaviva’s presentation of the social and religious causes of Autonomia is too schematic to do more than map out the field in the most general way. These are popular rather than scientific works, synthetic rather than analytic, hurriedly composed, one feels, to provide a puzzled public with a basic guide through the confusion. Apart from selective surveys on religious practice, the books are short on statistics about either Autonomia or the Red Brigades and sparser still on the biographical data of people in the radical left, even though this information is readily available. From a book like The Religious Seed of Revolt we might reasonably expect a discussion of the millenarian motifs that run, for example, through Negri’s more popular tracts, but instead we get only a review (even if a correct one) of religious life in Italy since the war.

Perhaps the greatest drawback of Guerrilla Warfare is the lack of a thorough analysis of the possible connection between the Red Brigades and Autonomia. Although Acquaviva recognizes a difference over theory between these two (Leninist centralism vs. mass support), he nonetheless links them in a simplistic and prejudicial homology when he calls the Brigades “the armed Party” and Negri’s Organized Autonomy “the armed Movement.” In that way I think he tends to give support to the prosecution’s as yet unproven and perhaps unprovable hypothesis in Italy v. Negri.

Finally, he seems unaware of what even Negri’s accusers acknowledge: that a divisive debate has been raging for some time within the Red Brigades between “hawks” who want to continue the tactics of terrorism and “doves” who favor attempts to reforge their links with the masses. Analysis of this debate, which is manifest in the Brigadists’ communiqués over the last fifteen months, seems a prerequisite to any predictions of the future of terrorism in Italy.

Whereas Acquaviva is the detached sociologist who charts the radical left from without, Toni Negri is the engagé philosopher who carries us to its theoretical and tactical core. He is unquestionably one of the most creative and passionate Marxists writing today, and without his densely argued works the Autonomia movement in Italy would probably dissolve, as did the counterculture in America, into vague and apolitical social protest.

The appeal of Negri’s new Marxism, for all his thick argumentation and hermetic jargon, lies in its utter simplicity. It is to his credit that he squarely faces the major embarrassment of Marxism in this century: the fact that the theory which foresaw the extinction of the state and the abolition of alienated labor has in fact spawned regimes that enforce both state and labor much more repressively than under capitalism. For Negri, the socalled “real socialism” of Russia and Eastern Europe is merely the “teleology of capitalism,” that is, the continuation of the law of surplus value under conditions which, at least theoretically, are supposed to be egalitarian. But alienated labor remains alienated even if, under socialism, it be rewarded with a just wage. Negri all but repeats the well-known quip: Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man whereas socialism is the exact opposite. The first and negative thesis of his own brand of Marxism is that communism has as little to do with socialism as it does with capitalism. If the Soviet Union represents Marxism, Negri writes, “we would be happy to do without Marx.”

As for the positive side of his theory, Negri asserts, frankly and somewhat ingenuously, what he calls the “true content” of communism.

Communism is the destruction of exploitation and the liberation of living labor, in fact, of non-labor. Simply this and nothing more…. The liberation of labor is liberation from labor. There is no question of exaggerating. Marx himself says this tens and hundreds of times. The only amusing thing about it is the embarrassment that almost all Marxist theoreticians feel when they read these passages.

The appeal of these positions to the large numbers of young people who resent and reject the work ethic should be clear. Negri argues for these ideas in two recent works which he styles “reinventions” of Marx and Lenin, that is, attempts to rescue them from Third Internationalist orthodoxy. Negri is at his best in the classroom, and both books come from university seminars. The Factory of Strategy: 33 Lectures on Lenin is a course he taught at Padua in 1972-1973 but published only in 1977, whereas Marx Beyond Marx: A Workbook on the “Grundrisse” is the seminar he held at the Ecole Normale last year—in fact during the captivity of Moro—and that has been published since Negri was arrested. The theoretical interest of both books has been overshadowed by the prosecution’s efforts to extract sentences which speak of sabotage and violence (not a difficult task in any case), but beyond this legal issue the works contain a vision of society and revolution that must be judged on its own merits.

Negri’s neo-Marxism is based on his interpretations of the Grundrisse, the notebooks which Marx wrote between 1857 and 1859 but which remained unedited until 1939 and virtually unstudied until the 1950s. Whereas many interpreters have tended to see the Grundrisse as only a step toward Capital (Roman Rosdolsky is a notable exception),7 Negri reads the work as “the highest point of Marx’s revolutionary imagination and will.” The Grundrisse, he says, gives us a “Marx beyond Marx,” one who transcends the objectivist categories of the commodity that he worked out in Capital and who instead focuses on the subjective side of the revolution: the alienated worker victimized by surplus value and salary. Coming midway between the so-called humanism of the early Paris Manuscripts and the dull objectivism of Capital, the Grundrisse resolves the old debate about the young vs. the old Marx by delivering all the humanistic passion of the Manuscripts with no less conceptual rigor than is found in the later writings. “The discovery of the Grundrisse,” Negri writes, “has restored Marx to us,” not as a utopian but as the scientist of the abolition of alienation and the liberation of the human subject.

At the center of the Grundrisse is Marx’s formulation of the mechanism of surplus value, the greatest discovery, Negri claims, in the history of economic science. Marx held that the historical role of capitalism was to push the productive process beyond the labor time necessary for simply producing the means of human subsistence. Whether that extra work time be “stolen” by capitalism or paid for by socialism, Negri argues, it is the basis of surplus value and profit and therefore remains the measure of the worker’s exploitation. Here is where Negri breaks with orthodox Marxism. The point of true communism must not be to continue the law of capitalism in a socialist form (in any case, he asserts, Keynesian capitalism has already done this in an effort to save its skin) but rather to abolish surplus value entirely.

In order to construct a nonsocialist Marxism, Negri has to confront the classical Marxist dilemma of the transition to true communism. Marx had envisioned two stages after the revolution. The first, which he called “crude communism” and which the Third International entitled “socialism,” would still be “stamped with the birth marks of the old society from which it emerges” in so far as it merely socializes the means of production and rewards each laborer according to his work. In this phase, surplus labor—and therefore alienation—inevitably continues under a kind of state capitalism (what Marx called “the community as universal capitalist”). Only much later, in the second stage, would the residual laws of bourgeois society be entirely suppressed and the principle “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs” be realized.

But Negri claims that in practice Marxist regimes have become prisoners of crude communism with no hope of escape. Since 1917 Marxists have come to power in countries with either feudalistic or underdeveloped capitalist economies. Thus the theory which originally envisioned a transition from advanced capitalism to pure communism has been reduced in fact to a force for pushing underdeveloped economies toward state capitalism. Under the exigency of a vast increase in productivity, Marxist states, even if they be called the dictatorship of the proletariat, have become rigid and oppressive, and the iron law of surplus value, even if enforced socialistically, has continued to destroy “creativity.”

If Marx and Lenin can and must be “reinvented” today, Negri argues, it is because the West has now reached the point which was predicted in the Grundrisse. In spite of itself and as the very condition of its mode of production, advanced capitalism has created a kind of “crude communism” in the form of a socialized humanity, armed with an immense capacity for creative work but enslaved by an alienated mode of production. Therefore, when the revolution comes, it will not need to make a transition through socialism but can proceed immediately to the institution of pure communism and the abolition of the state.

At this crucial point in the theory everything becomes vague, and Negri absolves himself from both concrete analysis of actual productivity in Italy and concrete suggestions about how the future society might function. The one thing he is clear on is the need for an absolute rupture with any system of surplus value. “The creativity of communist labor has no relation to the organization of capitalist labor. The overthrow is complete, and there is no homology between the two.” To enforce this rupture the decrees to be issued after the revolution will be simple and direct: “Drastic reduction of labor time. Equal social salary for everyone. End of the division of labor. Obligation to do productive work. Liberation of the force of imagination.”8 Beyond that, “no one can tell us, from outside the way we advance and struggle, what the conclusion might be. The communist future can only be constructed.”

We are to believe that somehow this state of affairs (Negri refuses to call it utopian) will not lead to chaos, even though Negri insists that the post-revolutionary period will be an uninterrupted cultural revolution aimed at destroying all points of reference provided by bourgeois society. “A difficult and dramatic path,” he guilelessly admits, one that will lead through ongoing class conflicts that no longer will have to do with property relations but rather with power relations wherever they be found. How long this cisalpine Götterdämmerung will last, we are not told, but we are assured that throughout it revolutionary humanity will be “new, rich, and joyful.”

All of this might remain an interesting pipe dream were it not for the fact that Negri has articulated the concrete strategy and tactics for realizing it and incarnated them in Organized Autonomy. His widely distributed tract Domination and Sabotage: On the Marxist Method of Social Transformation is a call for violence in the name of the classless society. The book frequently rises to quasi-religious fervor and occasionally descends to sinistes poetry. The secularized religious motif that inspires Negri’s Marxism slips out when he speaks of a revolutionary “logic of collective separation,” the conviction that communists are “another race,” born of a “virgin mother” and dedicated to “the battle between the true and the false,” led by Organized Autonomy which is compared to a “combatant religious order.” As the Marxist philosopher Massimo Cacciari has suggested, here one can sense the “culture of the apocalypse” that inspired revolutionary movements in late nineteenth-century Russia. On the other hand, when one reflects on the violent events of 1977 (the year this book was written), it is distressing to come upon such “poetic” passages as the following, even if they read better in Italian than in English.

This solitude of mine is creative, this separateness is the only real collectivity I know. The resultant happiness is clear: Every act of sabotage and destruction redounds to me as a sign of class collegiality. The possibility of risk, far from bothering me, fills me with the feverish emotion of one who awaits his beloved. Nor does the pain of the enemy affect me. Proletarian justice has the same productive force as self-realization [autovalorizzazione] and the same power as logical conviction.

I immediately feel the warmth of the worker-proletarian community every time I pull the ski mask over my face [tutti le volte che mi calo il passamontagna].

For all his castigation of the Red Brigades Negri himself insists on violence as “a necessary, central ingredient of the communist program.” His justification is that capitalist society is already violent and that the proletarian is simply defending himself. And this apparently means guns, with no apparent thought for the actual lives, feelings, and families of the people who are wounded and killed. In an earlier essay he wrote, “The struggle of the mass avant-garde and of its Party against the capitalist command means armed struggle, yes, that above all.”9 On the one hand he condemns the Red Brigades for “shooting in vain,” while on the other he publicly recognizes them as a “proletarian movement,” but without accepting their strategy. The distinction appears very thin. His message to the Red Brigades seems to be “Yes, but not yet.”

Whether Negri’s advocacy of sabotage and violence is punishable by law, and whether he is the century’s Scarlet Pimpernel and in fact a murderer, will be decided by the Italian courts. But jurisprudence aside, in the present situation of killings and kneecappings, when the walls of the University of Padua are smeared with slogans like Mitra è bello (“The machine gun is beautiful”), it is particularly specious and perverse for leftist intellectuals like Maria Antonietta Macciocchi to invoke the examples of Marat and Blangui, Brecht and Sartre, in defense of Negri’s language.10 Surely the professor himself should have weighed the possibly bloody consequences when he ended a lecture course in 1973 by saying, “It is your task as students and workers, the task of all of us who march under the banner of communism, to solve the problem of insurrection and liberation in subversive practice”—and when, a year later, he published an article that proclaims in italics, “Today only armed struggle speaks of communism.”11 Perhaps, as his lawyers claim, Negri has now abandoned that position. But the professor cannot put the blood back.

Marxist practice finds its roots in theory, and on that side Negri’s infantilization of society and history by his millenarian theory of revolution is all the more pathetic for the brilliance he brings to his task. These are harsh words to say of a man who, for whatever reason, languishes in jail while I walk free in a society that I know to be unjust. Negri’s sincerity and dedication have never been in doubt. But the pity is that what he offers sounds like a secularized inversion of eschatology (“Our sabotage organizes the proletarian assault on heaven so that finally that damned heaven may be no more!”) when the justice we require is so much more concrete and complex. Perhaps, as Acquaviva suggests, Negri has merely exchanged a Christian totality for a Marxist one. In any case, the Marxism he offers us does not go “beyond Marx,” but simply substitutes an earlier Marx for a later one. It remains a palace revolution in a closed system of concepts, but all the more questionable for its affinities with the terror that continues in the Italian streets.

July 10

This Issue

August 16, 1979