Murder in Rome

The Moro Affair and The Mystery of Majorana

by Leonardo Sciascia, translated by Sacha Rabinovitch
Carcanet, 175 pp., $16.95

On March 16, 1978, a group of terrorists ambushed the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro on the via Fani in Rome. Within three minutes they killed all five members of his escort and bundled Moro into one of three getaway cars. People living nearby tried to give the alarm, but found that their telephone wires had been cut. Half an hour later the police issued a general alert, but by that time the kidnappers and their victim had disappeared. Within an hour the Red Brigades announced that Moro was in their hands; on March 18, they said he would be tried in a “people’s court of justice.” Nine weeks later, after the tangled events Leonardo Sciascia recounts in The Moro Affair had taken place, the Red Brigades announced that Moro’s body would be found in the luggage compartment of a Renault parked on the via Caetani in the crowded center of Rome. They chose this street for symbolic reasons: it is halfway between the headquarters of the Christian Democratic and the Communist parties.

Who were the Red Brigades? They first appeared on the scene in Milan in 1970. They began their “armed propaganda” on September 17, when they burned the car of a factory executive. Following the success of the great wave of strikes in the “hot autumn’ of 1969, working-class militancy remained high, and was accompanied by frequent acts of violence and sabotage. These were mainly attributable to young workers newly arrived from the south. The Red Brigades, however, unlike Lotta Continua and other groups of the extraparliamentary left, did not find recruits in this raw and newly urbanized proletariat. They came from three main sources: young shop stewards and factory delegates, radicalized by their experiences during the autumn of 1969; veterans of the student movement from the new faculty of sociology at Trento; and dissident members of the Communist Youth Federation from the Party stronghold of Reggio Emilia. These young militants saw themselves, in Leninist fashion, as the advance guard of the revolutionary working class, and they took the large factories of Milan and Turin as their initial field of action. They chose to go underground in order to wage more effective war on their class enemies.

From the beginning, however, the Red Brigades’ choice of clandestine action tended to isolate them from the working class, and they became more and more estranged from reality. But in the first period of their existence, neither their secrecy nor their isolation was complete. The Red Brigades were to acquire a reputation for murderous efficiency, but at this time they were neither efficient nor deliberately murderous. They committed their first murders in 1974, and these were more the result of impulse and circumstance than of planning. The character of the organization changed after the second and final arrest of their most important leader, Renato Curcio. It was only then, under the leadership of his successor, Mario Moretti, that they became a formidable machine of terror. They carried out their first…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.