The Italian Revolutionary Left
with a Document from the Red Brigades
from Urgent Tasks Number 10
by Ken Lawrence and The Red Brigades
These articles on the revolutionary movements in Italy have a dual purpose, and partly for this reason they tend, to fall somewhat short of complete success in both respects. The first aim is to familiarize our U.S. readers with the backgrounds of those movements and some of their significant debates. The second is to enter those debates with critical commentary. Many of the issues in these debates are as pressing in the United States as they are in Europe, yet the debate on them has not even begun here yet.
Since it is not possible for me to know the extent to which the materials available in English are truly representative of these movements, all of my remarks must be considered, to a certain extent, provisional. I am also aware that my necessarily schematic treatment tends to portray Autonomia Operaia as more politically unified and cohesive than it actually is.
It will be obvious to readers that a great deal more could have been written about certain disagreements with these various revolutionary currents in Italy. In some cases the sketchiness was deliberate, especially in areas where similar political lines have been argued by others more fully in English. These will be debated on their merits in future issues of Urgent Tasks; meanwhile, there is little point in debating less complete versions that happen to exist in partial translations from Italian.
Despite these flaws, I feel relatively confident of my overall conclusions: that none of the movements seem fully to grasp the duality of working class consciousness, and the importance of understanding reformism and opportunism not only as weapons of bourgeois rule, but also as real contradictions within the proletariat. (This is especially ironic in the land of Antonio Gramsci.) Revolutionary strategies fail to the extent they miss this essential point, in part because they then elevate tactical considerations to the level of strategy, and movements split over secondary concerns that they consider matters of principle.
There are indeed matters of principle involved, however. The reason why armed struggle must always be politically subordinate to mass activity, at least in the strategic sense, is because it is only in the course of the autonomous self-activity of the proletariat that this contradiction is transcended, as workers learn to view themselves as having the potential to rule society themselves. The only reasonable theoretical Marxist justification for elevating guerrilla warfare to the level of revolutionary strategy would be in situations where, for one reason or another, the proletariat is too weak, numerically, militarily, or ideologically, to rule society in its own name. On the other side of the argument, though, the workers' movement must never reject, in principle, any method of struggle, and it certainly seems proven that the military aspect of the class struggle is too often underestimated by revolutionaries in the industrial countries.
The politics of armed struggle in Italy
by Ken Lawrence
The Irish comrades of Revolutionary Struggle have performed a valuable service to us all by devoting nearly the entire current issue of their theoretical journal, Ripening of Time (number 12), to "Italy: Documents of Struggle."
The magazine begins with a useful, short, two-part history of Italy's revolutionary movement from World War II through 1978. The rest is a collection of excerpts from recent documents of various Italian revolutionary organizations, translated and published in English for the first time. Thus, unlike the very few other English-language editions of recent Italian revolutionary writing, this collection strives to share with us the debate on the revolutionary left, rather than to promote a particular organization or political line.
Apparently the Italian comrades, despite their precarious conditions of illegality, are quite long-winded in their polemics. This has meant that the 60 or so pages of fine print in Ripening of Time devoted to the actual documents were not really sufficient, and the editors were compelled by their space limitation to cut them severely at times this makes the debate difficult to follow. Even so, it is worth the trouble to read them carefully.
The first document in the collection, "Initial Phase of Armed Struggle in Italy," was written by three former members of Nuclei Armata Proletari (NAP Armed Proletarian Nuclei) in December 1977, after that organization had ceased to function. Under the circumstances it is an incomprehensibly arrogant statement. Thus, despite the fact that their organization had been completely smashed by the state after just three years' existence, they refer to "armed struggle as the only strategically valid revolutionary option" [page 16] and later "the successful assertion of armed struggle for communism as the only possible revolutionary strategy" [page 17] as though these assumptions were virtually self-evident, requiring little or no proof.
Some of the statements in this article, when juxtaposed, reveal the most muddle-headed thinking one can find among revolutionaries. To illustrate: the NAP comrades quote approvingly from a 1975 Red Brigades resolution, "Our task is political disarticulation . . . ," [page 20] as though it summarizes a revolutionary strategy for the current epoch, yet they are able to refer in passing to "the factory . . . whose strategic importance goes far beyond the mere seizure of power by the proletariat." [page 18] The "mere" seizure of power by the proletariat! Yet at the same time they make light of the act of revolution, they fail to say why the workers should concern themselves with such a trifle in any case.
Although the NAP experience is hardly compelling evidence of the virtues of armed struggle, and the fact that the authors of this piece don't even seem to be aware of that weakness in their argument, the document is useful for an understanding of the political origin and development of the armed movement in Italy:
. . . [In 1974 there was] a definite crisis of the extra-parliamentary groups ever more clearly they were incapable of making a revolutionary response to the strategic needs of the class struggle and to the most immediate struggles of the most militant layers of the proletariat. .. .
In 1972/73 the mass movement of proletarian prisoners reached a very severe level of confrontation; revolts and mass demonstrations came one after the other, almost always ending up in injuries, convictions, beatings, transfers, sometimes even deaths. It was clear to the most conscious vanguards that no reformist approach or desire could change the nature of the absolute oppression of prisoners. The one chance for the movement to defend and develop itself was in resisting the armed attack of the powers, building a new level of consciousness and an armed initiative; it could only do this by inserting its own struggle within a general project of armed struggle.
Naturally Lotta Continua, up to then the main political organizational reference point for proletarian prisoners, wouldn't take part in any way in such a program. As this became increasingly clear, by the end of '73 and the beginning of '74, a series of comrades in favor of the armed struggle road left Lotta Continua. These included both external militants from the Lotta Continua prison commission, and also prisoners who had developed their own actions on the inside with Lotta Continua as their reference point.
A split took place around these same problems and positions, inside Lotta Continua in Florence, where it included a number of the most important militants involved in prison work from the outside. This happened in a situation where there had already been previous unsuccessful attempts to organize in the area of armed struggle; and although such failures caused a certain loss of momentum, the debate on these topics was nonetheless broad, throughout the whole Florentine movement, creating a situation completely suitable for the growth of armed struggle.
In Naples the armed struggle debate began later around the end of '73, at a time when the tensions between classes had reached rather high levels (the "cholera crisis," the anti-proletarian "reclamation" of the city); and the movement in Naples had seen moments of struggle intense enough to provoke debates between comrades coming from different situations, mostly from Lotta Continua. Basically the debate was about a militant practice in the struggle against repression, and about the increasingly clear absurdity of any reformist hypotheses in a social structure like Naples. Many moved to the armed struggle line and initial practices. To avoid any misunderstanding, we must underline that the existence, actions and slogans of the Red Brigades were of the greatest importance for the militants coming both from prison and from Florence and Naples, and provided a strong stimulus even though there was no direct contact and the actual posi- tions of the Red Brigades were only roughly known, [pages 23-24]
To a certain extent this background statement mirrors experiences which have been maturing in and around the prisoners' and prisonsolidarity movements in the U.S. for the past few years. If the parallels persist, the Italian result may be pertinent:
The high level of military encounter in which they engaged formed an essential moment in the development of collective military capacity leading at the time to the marginalization of those "wait and see" positions or those not prepared to take a full part in an effective armed struggle practice. The political debate centered on the need to define, on the basis of our experience, a program of armed struggle with respect to the particular sectors of the proletariat and the social situations from which it came, rather than general and strategic discussion about armed struggle, [page 25]
The writers seem not to notice that the movement they say began as a response to the failure of the extraparliamentary left to address the "strategic needs of the class struggle" excluded the bulk of the proletariat and subordinated itself politically to the most emarginated (their word) sectors of the class. This interpretation of the development becomes important to remember later on, because the Red Brigades documents included here don't reveal this aspect of their history at all.
What follows is predictable. The writers believe NAP failed "because of the absence of a program of work and intervention inside the movement," [page 27] but apparently it didn't occur to them that they had built an organization which, in its own way, was as unable to respond to the needs of the proletariat as the earlier movement, albeit for different reasons. The conclusions follow the logic of the analysis, the most dubious of which is this:
. . . it must be recognized that the practice of the NAP, in attacking the State's repressive apparatus, has in most cases functioned as the leadership in the confrontation, posing strategically valid and politically decisive elements of consciousness for the growth of the entire revolutionary vanguard. From these contents it has been possible to build organization and combat, working from within the sub-proletariat and the marginal and emarginated sectors of the proletariat class sectors which are tending to increase numerically and politically in the imperialist countries, and whose significance in the revolutionary process can be seen both historically and in actual reality, [page 30]
One need not question the commitment, dedication, and individual heroism of the NAP comrades to doubt the validity of their political understanding. But their final claim, that "NAP contributed in a very important way which it would be absurd to undervalue to the growth of armed struggle and of the revolutionary movement," [page 30] is probably quite true.
However, some Italian comrades challenge the NAP account of the development of the armed movements, pointing out that their origin predates the supposedly critical events listed by NAP (some date back to late 1969, and others emerged gradually after that). They suggest that only by distorting the history could NAP so neatly attribute the roots of the armed groups to a crisis of the extra-parliamentary left in general and Lotta Continua in particular.
NAP was quickly smashed, and its remnants joined Brigate Rosse (BR Red Brigades), which, despite crippling blows sustained this year, is apparently a permanent feature of Italian political life. The next document is an excerpt from BR's "Strategic Resolution" dated, according to another article in the magazine, February 1978. It presents a novel but thoughtful analysis of the functioning of modern imperialism, concluding that
the principal inter-capitalist contradiction is now no longer the one between national capitals (and hence between national areas and national bourgeoisies) but the one between big multinational combines (thus cutting vertically through the imperialist bourgeoisie).
In saying this, we don't mean to deny that contradictions still exist between the various capitalist "nations," or between monopoly and non-monopoly capital. But we believe these contradictions to be essentially the reflection of much deeper contradictions between multi-national combines. In fact, the various national areas now exist as a backdrop for the multinationals: the "point of strength" for each multinational is the national area in which it was born and developed, the zone in which it reaps the benefit of being an almost exclusive monopoly. So really when we speak about multinationals, we always imply "multinationals with a national pole," and so use what at first glance seem to be contradictory expressions "American, German . . . etc. multinationals." [pages 32-33]
This essential argument, especially when embellished with the familiar evidence of Trilateralism as the dynamic side of modern imperialism, is probably the first substantial challenge to state capitalist theory as the best Marxist description of the present stage of capitalism. If so, the weaknesses of the document in other respects should not be allowed to detract from debating this area fully. If the general analysis is correct, the political conclusion is certainly reasonable:
In each national area, the proletariat is in no position to settle up with its own "national bourgeoisie," but rather with the local articulation of the imperialist bourgeoisie. This gives to the proletarian class struggle even in the metro-poles the character of an antiimperialist struggle, and thus, in a more general sense, the character of REVOLUTIONARY CLASS WAR. In the same breath it is also, in the metropoles, AN ANTI-IMPERIALIST LIBERATION WAR, A PROTRACTED WAR. [page 33]
The implication of this argument is clearly that the new stage of capitalism, which BR designates "The Imperialism of the Multinationals," has drawn imperialism full circle, undermining the characteristic distinctions between oppressor- and oppressed-nation proletarians, at least objectively, though not without a residue of the traditional traits:
. . . the imperialist chain is still characterized by its unequal development, defining the specificity of the economic social formation in each of its links (the relation between the dominant multinational capital and the multinational capital of the particular "pole," between monopoly and non-monopoly capital, between "internal" imperialist bourgeoisie and proletariat). For this reason the class struggle, despite its strategic homogeneity of contents and perspectives, takes forms and rhythms specific to the different national areas, [page 33]
The BR document goes on to describe the present crisis in the West as "a capitalist crisis of overproduction . . . what amounts to a process of permanent crisis." [pages 33-34] The continuing need of the West to expand will inevitably lead to war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. ("Social Imperialism" BR doesn't say whether the Soviet bloc faces a similar crisis and a similar inevitable drive toward war. The application of the term imperialism to the Soviet Union ought to be considered sufficiently grave an accusation to require, from any responsible revolutionary, a supporting political analysis and program, but BR has never delivered on this.)
Despite its title, the closest this document comes to offering a strategy is contained in this "generalization," which summarizes the analysis:
. . . inside the crisis the password of the bourgeoisie is "block the process of civil war, transform it into imperialist war and thus defeat the revolution for communists it then has to be "develop the process of civil war that is taking place, and thus obstruct imperialist war." [page 35]
The rest of the document elaborates the functional analysis of the modern imperialist state, particularly its bureaucratic aspect, and argues that the resulting political regime is inherently increasingly repressive.
The rigid centralization of vital centers of the State into the hands of the imperialist bourgeoisie through the bureaucracy is a necessary condition for its restructuring: only in this way can the tensions particular to the area be controlled and resolved, subordinating them inside the global imperialist plan. For this reason, we witness the progressive displacement of Parliamentary power and the reinforcement of that of the Executive in the different Nation-States. . . .
Meanwhile the Executive, to the extent that it is directly controlled and formed by imperialist political personnel, is able to carry out this task much more efficiently, [page 39]
This is demonstrably true, but there is another side.
From the point of view of proletarian struggles, the statalizzazione of society therefore constitutes, against its will, a powerful factor unifying and simplifying interventions, and sharpening their revolutionary and anti-imperialist character, [page
To blunt this revolutionary thrust, the bourgeoisie resorts not only to repression, but also to reformism.
By reformism, small concessions to the metropolitan "aristocracy," it tries to block proletarian struggle before it reaches emergency level, by winning it back and reinserting it inside its own "development"; it simultaneously pacifies neutral . areas and goes on to wipe out all those parts of the proletariat that it cannot "buy off" or put back inside its own development.
Reformism is never separate from annihilation. It is not a different thing. Reformism is NOT working class politics, but the politics of the Imperialist State against the metropolitan proletariat, [page 40]
This combination gives rise to the new methods of struggle.
Because reform and annihilation are coexistent functions of the Imperialist State, there is no longer a political phase separate from the military one: only by bearing arms is it possible to work on a political level in the class confrontation. The insurrectionist strategy, stemming from the IIIrd. International, leaves the stage of history; guerilla war comes on prolonged class war.
In that phase that we have called "armed peace" (that is in the expansion phase of the cycle where the use of reformist structures dominates over more openly repressive ones), armed propaganda is the prevalent tactic for the revolutionary forces. In the phase of "war" (i.e., in the crisis phase of the cycle, where instruments to repress and wipe out antagonistic class behaviors are dominant), the practice of revolutionary civil war takes over, [page 41]
This is as far as it goes. The reader is left suspended in midair strategy for what? Despite the title, "Strategic Resolution," nowhere in this excerpt can we learn BR's aims; we don't learn whether this is a defensive strategy, or the road to proletarian power. The NAP analysis discussed earlier, however, quotes approvingly this as BR's goal:
. . . to smash the bureaucratic and military machinery of the State . . . precondition of any proletarian revolution, [page 21]
Thus for NAP and BR, armed struggle itself constitutes the revolution.
Part of the problem with these groups is their one-sided understanding of reformism. While it is true that reformism is the bourgeoisie's carrot and repression is its stick, that is not the whole story, nor even the most important part. Reformism is the aspect of capital that the working class has internalized. It is an alien class ideology, yes, but it is precisely because it has been internalized, and represents a pole within the proletariat's consciousness, that it constitutes such an effective tool of bourgeois hegemony, and one that armed struggle alone will not dislodge. Another of the armed Italian movements is more modest. The excerpt from a Prima Linea (PL Front Line) communique states:
The forces of counter-insurgency, the paramilitary apparati dealing with anti-terrorism, be they attached to particular Parties or social sectors, MUST BE ATTACKED. We must attack them in order to avoid their growing and centralizing efficiently in the body of the class. Likewise, it's clear that indiscriminate criteria cannot be adopted. The initiators of attack must be able to select the enemy who because of his/her role acts as a strategic pole, [page 86]
PL went on to criticize BR for executing a Communist Party (PCI) worker who had turned in a BR member in his factory to the police, arguing that precise political judgments to determine the enemy's "strategic pole" had to guide all armed tactics. Although the document is short, its implication seems to be that the armed movement is today serving mainly a defensive role, though it is at the same time an "advance unit" of an eventual Communist Liberation Army.
PL does not extend the debate beyond the implied criticism of BR, but it seems legitimate to conclude from these selections that the armed movements are divided among those who view armed struggle today as the heart of a strategy for proletarian revolution and those who consider it a defensive tactic in support of the broader movement of the proletariat. Both sides of this debate consider the escalating state repression to be a permanent feature of modern capitalist rule, but they differ over where to aim the blows against it to achieve the most effective political result.
Autonomia Operaia (Workers Autonomy AO) attacks BR on more fundamental ground. Whereas, as we have seen, BR's political aim is to smash the state as a "precondition" of proletarian revolution, AO argues in an October 1978 document taken from its Rome newspaper, Volsci, that the. "strategic elandestinity" of BR denies in practice the importance of proletarian organization on a mass level while it reduces the revolutionary process
into a gradualist process of two stages: first, the seizure of power, the so-called structural or political revolution, and then the social emancipation of re
At the same time, the AO document argues, even PL, taking as its starting point a critique of militarism not linked to the movement of the workers, "develops a rivalry that tends, in practice, to repeat the same path as the Red Brigades." [page 53] In opposition to these currents, AO states,
We must bear in mind that the achievement of communist society presupposes:
(a) A phase of development of mass counterpower which is needed for the diffusion of antagonistic class behavior and for the organization of workers autonomy.
(b) A phase of establishment of dual power, in which the use of force by the proletariat becomes systematic . . . able to adequately confront the force of the state and victoriously mark the opening of the revolutionary period leading up to the collapse of bourgeois power. This period is characterized by the war between classes.
(c) A phase that can be summed up as the dictatorship of the proletariat in which mass revolutionary organs, concretely produced everywhere, during the long phase of pre-revolutionary confrontation, begin to undertake in practice the historical evolution of society. Power is passing through the delegate and minority democracy of the bourgeoisie to the direct and majority democracy of the proletariat. The reason for this transition, and its social phases, will be defined by the actual level of political consciousness, the diffusion and implantation that mass revolutionary organs have already reached before the capture of power.
This implies that an organizational process, not exclusively identified with the Party, be able to put together the social, political and military functions needed to carry the revolutionary process to completion in a non-delegate form. Thus
(1) the mass organization of the proletariat assumes a strategic function, while
(2) a conception of the Party as a means, or an instrument, is affirmed, [pages 55-56]
There is much more in this critique that is valuable, particularly in the further elaboration of the need for mass organization and selforganization of the proletariat, but, in the end, as a rejection of BR and PL, I think it is carried too far.
It should be clear, once and for all, that we are not interested in a guerrilla process, even if we believed that it was possible in Europe. . . . What we are interested in is a struggle of attrition against bourgeois power that is both prolonged and decisive, [page 57]
This is not simply an over-reaction to the politics of the armed clandestine groups, since the document is somewhat self-critical for "having underestimated the capacity of the clandestine comrades for political inquiry or how effective they might be." [page 53] Rather, it stems from a near-fatal miscalculation of the potential of the state for repression. "We have denounced as a tragic mistake the prediction of a prospect of fascization," [page 52] they wrote in this paper. Although this apparently was intended to be a pointed reminder that in about 1975 BR believed that there would be a fascist coup, and AO always ridiculed them for that prediction, it is significant that only a few months later, dozens of AO (and non-AO) militants, including the main theoreticians of the movement, were jailed for political offenses and many are still being held without having been brought to trial. (The BR prediction was probably overblown, but not as much as AO's polemics suggest. From 1972 to 1975, at the same time that the CIA was engaged in overthrowing Salvador Allende's Popular Unity government in Chile, U.S. intelligence agents were establishing close relations with leading Italian fascists, and providing them with large amounts of money.) And even though there was no coup in the classic sense, things have certainly gotten bad enough certainly bad enough to warrant underground organization. While one must be modest in lecturing Italians on fascism, it certainly seems legitimate to consider the country that is exceeded only by the Soviet Union in the number of political prisoners (about 1,500), where there is no legal protection against self-incrimination, and where detainees may be held without trial for up to twelve years, to have failed to meet some minimal standard of bourgeois "democracy." While the term fascism should not be lightly bandied about as the left often does, it ought to retain some useful meaning; if it does, modern Italy would seem to be one of its vanguards.
The criticisms of BR from within, by dissident members Adriana Feranda and Valerio Moruccia * tend to support the general thrust of the AO critique, though they do not consider AO an acceptable political alternative. They begin with a summary of the first several years of BR political experience.
In the early '70s, after the powerful cycle of workers' struggles and their illegal outcome, the problem of how to connect this underground aftermath to a "legal" initiative was hotly debated at the highest levels of the revolutionary movement.
Put in these terms, the connection between armed struggle and legal action couldn't be established. The transition to armed struggle had to be acknowledged in its specificity and in its political and organizational implications.
In this framework, to put it simply, the initial intervention of the 0. confused the terms of this problem by asserting that it is the autonomy of the working class that has to be organized around the armed struggle, and not the reverse.
The major instrument, in that phase, was the Armed Propaganda which attempted to demonstrate the practicability of the Armed Struggle.
In the last two years, the situation has evolved in such a way as to affect a reversal of the situation of the early '70s. At that time, the specific form or armed spontaneity constituted a restraint to the qualitative expansion of the "proletarian struggle"; today, the organizational and political rigidity of the model that was necessary to provoke that rupture is becoming an impediment to the quantitative expansion of the "armed proletarian struggle." [I:A, page 277]
They go on to explain that the policy of "strategic clandestinity" paralleled the adoption of the analysis of Imperialism of the Multi-nationals.
Significantly, in September 1976, the Front organizing action within the masses was definitely broken up. The O. identified the enemy as the Multinational Imperialist State (MIS). The contradictions within the MIS made it such that the existence of a "specific" front for political action was no longer justified. The consequences of this "vertical linearity," imposed from above, struck mainly those sectors of "recent" political intervention in the masses, especially those who had demonstrated a capacity for independent analysis most likely to counter the tendency toward abstraction inherent to this kind of choice
This point of view was limited historically by its strict emphasis on the economic re-structuring of big industry. This disregard for the overall social level relegated the new quality of the worker's struggle to the underbrush of "partiality" and "secondary" contradictions. Unable to integrate into its program the political enrichment derived from these struggles, the 0. mechanically reasserted the hegemony of industrial labor, issued from an antiquated, and by now obsolete, conception of "productive" work. [I:A, page 277]
(Feranda and Morucci do concede that "strategic-ism . . . may have had a validity in the years that proletarian struggle couldn't go beyond the cul-de-sac of legal struggle" [RoT, page 64], echoing the practical position of PL.)
The BR focus on big industry is indeed the heart of the difference in understanding modern capitalism. In "Prisoners Reply," attributed to BR leader Renato Curcio and signed by 16 other BR militants as well, the traditional Marxist position is forcefully argued:
To deny the centrality of directly productive work: this is the dream of all the petit bourgeois ideologues who, trying to jump on the bandwagon of the Real movements of the non-working class components of the metropolitan proletariat, would like to render absolute their own relative importance.
In this effort, there are an awful lot of common places of "advanced capitalism" where the dividing lines between productive and non-productive work should have been dissolved; the quotations of the magic Grundrisse multiply and multiply, stretched like, chewing-gum to make them fit the whole of society, instead of the factory as it is in the text; the charges which maintain. this basic tenet of marxism, become anathema which would be insulting, as for instance the Stalin-paleo-vetero- marxists; the bravest are even able to give up their marxist surplice, inside which they had hidden their liberal faith for years, and which the first blast of wind had exposed in its nakedness; the more cunning prefer to follow the general complaints on the "end of Marxism," minting theories about the "new revolutionary subject" and "socialized labor" and playing the funeral march for the assembly-line worker.
In the capitalist mode of production even in its present historical form the divisions between productive and unproductive work remain fundamental, although they obviously .assume specific shapes and forms which must be determined case by case in each social formation, considered in its process. .. . [RoT, page 69]
By productive work, we mean that work which transforms the conditions of labor into capital and the owners of capital into capitalists.
By productive work, we mean that work which is directly counterposed to capital and which therefore, while indispensible to it, directly confronts it. . . . [RoT, page 70]
The "most serious error of interpretation" seems to be made by those who reduce the metropolitan proletariat to a totality that has no contradictions to "socialized workers" who all become equal factors in their confrontation with capital. An unforgiveable error because, by simplifying in this way, they slide out of Marxist analysis and open the door to all kinds of attempts to impose the hegemony of particular social strata on the entire metropolitan proletariat." [RoT, page 72]
In response to this BR position, AO's Toni Negri supported the general line of the Feranda/Morucci critique:
What is strange is that both positions [BR and PCI] do not comprehend, from an empirical point of view, that the working class in big factories is 1) a small minority of productive labor; 2) that the specificity of the working class in big factories is disappearing within the framework of the social organization of productive labor. Now, the only essential thing that, for those who work within Marxism, must be done is analyzing more deeply the political make-up of productive "social" work, that of the worker who, socially, produces surplus value and is therefore socially exploited. [I:A, page 294]
But nowhere in these texts do Feranda/Morucci or Negri respond to the BR's (and classical Marxism's) stubborn insistence that in revolutionary times workers in large industry play a strategic role greater than their statistical percentage of the class, as the Putilov workers did in the Russian revolution. (But some of the analytical writings about capitalist restructuration, especially on the tendency toward the so-called "diffused factory," imply that capital's strategy is to eliminate concentrations of the Putilov variety.)
There are also organizational differences. Feranda/Morucci argue that the vanguard has "no further reason to exist today." [RoT, page 64] They argue that BR aims "consciously or unconsciously" to accelerate repression, at a time when "a premature closing off of democratic spaces will go against the reinforcement of proletarian organization. . . ." [RoT, page 65] Even most AO writers do not go this far, arguing that large-scale police violence preceded and often provoked the escalation of armed struggle.
The BR response again defends a traditional Leninist position:
According to them, the role of the Party is outdated perhaps it worked yesterday, but to persist on these lines in today's new conditions is "arrogance, presumption, property of a group and not of a proletarian vanguard." That is, to be a proletarian vanguard today, one must refuse a vanguard role! Moreover, they add, if strategy exists already in a new class composition, what purpose would the action of a Party serve? . . . [RoT, page 73] We have been forced, precisely by this evolution of the objective situation, pushed on by the crises and our history in them, to face the necessity of a qualitative leap: the leap to the Party.
Certainly a difficult leap, needing as it does among other things a deeper understanding of a basic principle of our Organization that is, "the Party is the vanguard element of the revolutionary mass movement, and therefore is at the same time both part of this movement, and distinct from it. Part of in the sense that it is completely internal, meaning that its militants whatever organizational form they assume, clandestine, 'legal' . . . constitute the backbone of this movement its revolutionary lever, its political/military vanguard."
"Distinct from it in the sense that the Party keeps its own political/ military/organizational autonomy, that is, though operating within the revolutionary mass movement, it neither dissolves into it nor assumes its identity, because its revolutionary function doesn't limit itself to the specificity of single situations or to distinct components of the metropolitan proletariat." . . . [RoT, page 74]
That is, a class movement to realize its interests in a general form that would have a coercive force in the social arena. If it's true that a serious preliminary organization must precede these movements, in themselves they are also means of developing this organization. . . . On not just this question, we are absolute Marxist-Leninists. [RoT, page 75]
These messengers of misfortune and death who hope in this way to "convince" the masses of the necessity of taking up arms do not even realize that they are addressing a working class who have far more than their chains to lose and who probably will only decide to take up arms when they will have achieved a program of power commensurate to their own development and to capital's development. Only at that point will the "necessity" for war become a positive affirmation within the growing confrontation of classes. [I:A, page 279]
We shamelessly admit that we hadn't understood that autonomy and independence are "a process, rich with TOTAL and ABSOLUTE content, which go beyond the limits of the capitalist relations of production." We're not very good at metaphysics, and at the risk of being accused of Stalinist-Marxism again, we reaffirm our dialecticalmaterialist conception of history and we mistrust the TOTAL and ABSOLUTE ideas as well as those who prophetically support them. [RoT, pages 79-80]
Those are the debates. Before concluding, it is worth mentioning that to a certain extent the political issues have been soured by the rumor going around Europe that BR is itself responsible for the arrests of Feranda and Morucci, to punish them for their political dissent. When Morucci was interviewed by journalist Giuseppe Nicotri, he explicitly denied this:
N Various inferences concerning your arrest have appeared in newspapers. Your arrest was put in relation to alleged divergences and splits inside the armed party. . . .
M It's real infamy. Those who write such things only reveal their propensity to use treason and delation as instruments of warfare. Those who think that political struggle between revolutionaries can arrive at the point of erasing the prejudicial solidarity between communists against the class enemy have had their heads rotted by a stalinistic and gangsteristic logic. [I:A, page 275]
Were it not for the severe conditions of political repression under which these Italian comrades function, the most constructive suggestion one could make would be to realign the revolutionary left with a synthesis of BR's analytical approach and organizational experience, AO's concepts of mass proletarian organization, and PL's approach to armed struggle. Paradoxically, under "freer" conditions such a proposal would rightly be denounced as eclectic, but in Italy it seems as though conditions are sufficiently mature that a proper mix of theory and strategy, mass organization and vanguard, analysis and tactics, could furnish the essentials of proletarian revolution sooner than anywhere else in Europe. Its failure to date has already moved the Italian state further along the road to barbarism than any other Western country.
More than in any other industrial country, all the necessary subjective elements are present. But AO's disastrous underestimation of the government's repressive power has been as fatal to its development as BR's apparent attempt to extend armed struggle as a substitute for the mass movement of the workers. It is difficult to imagine a more difficult backdrop for political rectification than that of urban civil war, but that is the condition in which the armed revolutionary movement finds itself in Italy.
Red Brigades document
The document we publish here in English for the first time is a Red Brigades communique issued after BR's attack on the headquarters of the Christian Democrats in Piazza Nicosia, Rome, on May 3, 1979.
Some comrades in Europe have interpreted that action and this document as an implied political criticism of one BR section, the group that ordered the execution of Aldo Moro a year earlier, by another. A different analysis accompanied its publication, however.
The document was published in the first issue of Metropoli (June 1979), which was suppressed by the Italian police as some members of its editorial committee were jailed on charges comparable to those leveled against the Autonomia comrades arrested the previous April 7. (Some copies of Metropoli did circulate, however, so the second issue was confiscated by police before it could go to press.)
In an accompanying commentary Paulo Virno, one of the jailed Metropoli editors, wrote that the BR action at Piazza Nicosia
signaled a turning point with respect to the entire political-military experience of the Red Brigades, including the Via Fani incident [the kidnapping of Aldo Moro]. What has occurred is the progression, consciously pursued, from an operative terrorist "model" to a guerrilla one. The latter involves a high level of social cooperation, a freedom of movement in enemy territory, a capacity to cope with a multiplicity of variables in the course of action: all factors evidenced in the events of May 3.
This year, however, BR has suffered grave setbacks as the police have captured and "turned" a leading BR cadre, Patrizio Peci. The resulting arrests are said to have crippled BR organizations in Turin and Genoa, and the BR leadership has said that Pecis betrayal has "wounded is near the heart." It is not yet possible to determine the extent to which these reverses will affect BR's political course, but its military actions are continuing.
On May 3, at 9:30 a.m., an armed unit of our organization occupied, searched, and destroyed the Christian Democratic headquarters at Piazza Nicosia. Within this locale had been housed the Committee for Rome, the Regional Committee, the School Commission and the center for electoral propaganda of Spes, in a word, this band of assassins' principal operating base for Rome and Latium. They had hoped to protect themselves against a proletarian attack by the regular presence of an armed cop, but this didn't help them. He was overcome and disarmed. Just as the intervention of the killers of Delta 19, spearhead of the First District, didn't help them. Never again will they terrorize and shoot down anyone who has the misfortune to come under their fire. This time they found the revolutionary forces in their way! The attack eliminated one of the most important fortified structures in Rome, as it took place very close to the principal government centers of the State (Senate, House of Representatives, Executive). It demonstrated once again that NO OBJECTIVE, NO MATTER HOW WELL PROTECTED MILITARILY, IS BEYOND THE POSSIBILITY OF ATTACK BY A GUERRILLA FORCE.
The action, in its military complexity, in the number of comrades involved, in the politico-military capability demonstrated, was once again the work of a political vanguard, formed in the working class and proletarian struggles of our country, which has been able to transform the shortcomings of comrades working in isolation into the collective ability to confront victoriously any objective whatsoever. This capability can be synthesized in the single word: ORGANIZATION. That is, MILITARY AND TECHNICAL PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED ONLY WITHIN A CORRECT CONCEPTION OF THE BUILDING OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION.
To the imbeciles who accuse us of "headline grabbing" we reply that the effectiveness of the blows struck against the enemy is not measured by the amount of paper used by the hack writers of counterrevolutionary psychological warfare, but by the quality of the revolutionary organization these actions develop, and the level of disruption they produce. These and only these are the criteria for evaluating properly the correctness or incorrectness of every action of the class struggle. There are no such things as low or high levels of action; there are only correct or incorrect actions.
Another important consideration concerns the armed henchmen of the counter-revolution. We find it important to understand clearly that beneath the uniform are concealed centuries of poverty, exploitation and ignorance, but we know likewise that that cannot absolve anyone. We make a single distinction: the armed servants of the Imperialist State are all playing objectively a counterrevolutionary role; among them, however, are the special squads, the DIGOS, the operative detachments of the Carabinieri, who subjectively assume responsibility for the defense of the interests of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the commitment they give to this role is generously recognized by the State through an economic, disciplinary and normative treatment that leaves them perceptibly better off than the rest of the military. In these circumstances, we say to all of them "change your profession," but we remind those who have not yet taken our suggestion that there are many ways of avoiding an active commitment to carry out orders received. Our conduct has been consistent: those who have surrendered to the Revolutionary Forces (FR) have had their lives spared; those who have opposed the FR with arms have been annihilated. One last consideration regarding the over-fed tradesmen who play at making war: let them consider carefully before assuming the role of self-appointed judges and sheriffs, it could truly be the last choice they make. The excuse of "carrying out orders from above" has no validity for them either.
Comrades, the nature of the Imperialist State, in the course of this past year, has been revealed once and for all. The plan that the imperialist bourgeoisie is seeking to impose has been shown to the proletarian masses in its unmistakable meaning: ferocious counter-revolution. And it is in the nature of things that the movement of proletarian struggles has offered its firm resistance to the counter-revolutionary project, to the plan for restructuring imperialism. The service workers (maritime, hospital, transport), the working class (Alfa-South, Fiat in Cassino and Mirafiori), those excluded from the production process, the marginal people dispossessed of everything, have been able to find in a thousand forms of struggle and autonomous organization the ability to oppose the restructuring of capital, to place themselves outside of, and in opposition to, trade union collaboration, reaffirming their own immediate and strategic needs, reaffirming the demand for communism. This is the new reality of the confrontation of classes. In its irreversible crisis, the bourgeoisie turns on the proletariat to strangle it; the rigid restructuration imposed by the multinationals no longer allows any margin for reformist mystification, which boils down to active collaboration with every maneuver against the proletariat, against its needs and interests (the high priests of the unions and the Berlinguerists give us sufficient proof of this). On the other hand, every struggle, every working class demand which goes beyond these limits or which, in simpler terms, the bourgeoisie cannot utilize for its own purposes, becomes objectively a revolutionary struggle, the expression of an antagonistic power; it becomes the mortal enemy. The entire organization of the Imperialist State is hurled against this new reality of the Revolutionary Movement, against the class strata that dare to resist, whatever may be the point of departure for their revolutionary initiative, even if only partial or limited to specific conditions. The Resistance Movement of the masses finds itself confronted totally by the brutal force of imperialist counter-revolution, at its maximum level, and with all its elements united. The satisfaction of proletarian needs and the struggle produced by them no longer finds any possible middle ground nor any solution except direct confrontation with the Imperialist State. It is class war. Thus begins on a vast scale the process of economic-political-military annihilation which mobilizes entire social classes in an attempt to crush that emerging tendency bursting with vitality: Proletarian Revolution. It is henceforth clear that this revolutionary mass movement finds its only possible outlet in armed struggle, no longer today as a theoretical statement of one possible road to communism, but as concrete practice which has its life in the reality of things. And with the force inherent in real things, armed struggle imposes itself as the only internal strategy for the mass movement; only on this strategy can proletarian power be built. What we are seeing today is the welding together of the immediate needs of the masses and their strategic needs, economic struggle and struggle for power, something that no intellectual force would have ever produced.
But if this union has its objective existence in proletarian resistance, a higher level of proletarian power is not reached peacefully or naturally. It is brought about by the fact that the proletarian struggle every day is pushed towards armed struggle, but only if the spontaneous moments of organization of the masses are transformed into organisms for class war. This means first of all winning within the movement new terrains for confrontation, where armed struggle is measured against a tactical program which, built directly on the conditions of life of the proletariat, brings the conflict for power into view at every moment of the struggle. The only possible and practical response must take form in direct relation to the immediate objectives. If every proletarian struggle comes immediately face to face with this major project of militarization or control of all society, it becomes necessary to discover in every weakness of the system of oppression all the mechanisms of this system itself, to direct against this system the mobilized masses, and to organize the armed resistance at that point.
If at every step of its life the proletariat encounters the monstrous machinery of power which has its pivot in the Christian Democratic Party (DC), it becomes necessary to start with the powerful proletarian movement already developed, and to reinforce, organize and direct a practice of struggle which will disrupt every gear in this machine. We have said REINFORCE, ORGANIZE, DIRECT THE MASS ORGANISMS OF PROLETARIAN POWER: this does not mean creating them at that point. Such organisms must be made up of the masses, represent real class strata, must contain ALL the proletarians ready for revolutionary struggle, ALL the possibility of the Movement of Resistance. There must be no distinction between Combatant Party (PCC) and Mass Organisms of Proletarian Power; on the contrary, in this new situation, the PCC must give active leadership to the movement, but without supervision or constraints, without putting ourselves either above or below, being inside. This is the task that the vanguard must now resolve, that the Party must carry out. And it must be done today in order to develop the offensive Movement of Resistance, to render it stronger, to construct proletarian power.
Comrades, we have said that the counter-revolutionary offensive is aiming for annihilation and total militarization. The regime has abandoned neither the search for a legitimacy it can no longer claim, nor the attempt to bring the confrontation back within the "democratic" framework. Just look at the mystification of the elections. The proletarians can choose: choose who will aim the gun at them, who will promote with greatest vigor the plans favoring multinational imperialism, who will try by every means to strangle them. The thousands of communists imprisoned these last months, the armed violence of its lackeys against the proletarians in struggle, are not enough for the demochristian regime; it also wants approval, strives for an impossible consensus; and the electoral hoax is once again orchestrated to obtain it. The proletarian movement will demonstrate that the DC and its Berlinguerist servants are deluding themselves. No one is fooled any longer by elections. They think they can impose peace while they have unleashed war against the proletarians, they have unleashed their violence, and hope to trap us in a "democratic confrontation." The proletarians have accepted war, and have full consciousness that not until the demochristian power has been finally liquidated will there be any election worthy of the name: the confrontation with the bosses and their followers will take place arms in hand. With the elections, the DC wants to demonstrate its strength. The proletarians, the revolutionaries, the communists will demonstrate its weakness! It wants to bring back its "peace." The proletarians, the revolutionaries, the communists will give it no truce!
Transform the electoral hoax into class war!! Attack, strike, disperse and wipe out everywhere the demochristian power!! Build the unity of the proletarians in the movement of resistance. Build the unity of the communists in the Combatant Party! Reinforce, organize, direct the mass organisms of proletarian power!!!!
Let a thousand hands be raised to seize the weapons of the comrades fallen in the struggle for communism: honor to comrades Maria Antonietta Berna, Angelo Del Santo, Alberto Graziani, who fell at Thiene fighting for communism.
Honor to comrade Elysabeth Van Dick, who fell in the struggle against imperialism's killers. The proletarians swear it: your sacrifice will not go unpunished!!!
By the Communist Red Brigades
Autonomia Operaia and the Lost Vision
by Ken Lawrence
The availability of a substantial collection of Autonomia Operaia (AO) documents in English translations makes possible a more confident and extensive critique of its development and its politics than can be applied here to the Italian armed clandestine organizations.
The best-known theoretician of AO, Toni Negri, has received considerable notoriety since his April 7, 1979, arrest, along with several others, on charges of complicity in the Red Brigades' (BR) kidnapping and execution of Aldo Moro. Because it is such an obvious frameup Negri and BR have been political opponents for years prominent intellectuals and militants in many countries have protested to the Italian government and have demanded that Negri and the others be freed. I traveled to Italy last year to assist the campaign to free the April 7 political prisoners.1
The Italian state's attack on Negri has greatly enhanced his reputation as a serious and original Marxist thinker.2 Unfortunately, Negri's writings do not live up to his reputation.
In his best-known work, "Domination and Sabotage,"3 Negri manages in one instance to misread and misuse Marx so thoroughly as to disgrace himself. He quotes, sternly and approvingly, this:
Crime, through its constantly new methods of attack on property, constantly calls into being new methods of defense, and so it is as productive as strikes for the invention of machines.4
Unfortunately for Negri's reputation (and for his sense of humor), this is drawn from a satirical essay entitled "Apologist Conception of the Productivity of All Professions." It is difficult to believe that Negri actually read the two-page article before extracting his excerpt, because Marx's purpose is unmistakeable from the beginning.5
To be sure, Toni Negri's politics will not stand or fall on his defective funny bone, but his tendency to mystify and inflate commonplace concepts is a serious problem. In this same article he beats his breast about AO's so-called strategy, the refusal of work:
More than any other single watchword of the communist movement, the refusal of work has been continually and violently outlawed,, suppressed and mystified by the traditions and the ideology of socialism.6
Yet, when it comes to defining what this "strategy" is, Negri's italics conceal a fairly ordinary and traditional notion:
The refusal of work is first and foremost sabotage, strikes, direct action.7
In my opinion, these shrill readings fail to deliver their theoretical promise. Nonetheless they serve an essential political purpose in their own context, where working-class politics traditionally has meant the Communist Party and where socialism has meant the state. "Autonomy" itself is the movement's key slogan, meaning "independent working class politics" independent of the PCI, independent of the state, independent of the official labor movement.
These methods of struggle that the Autonomous movement considers so important are definitely subversive to the hegemony of the CPs and the unions, as well as disruptive to public order and decency, but they do not by themselves constitute revolution Negri and his colleagues to the contrary.
I think one reason the AO strategy falls short is because it views the enemy institutions,the PCI and the unions especiallypurely as agencies of capitalist domination, rather than as a reflection of the contradiction within the working class itself. For AO "autonomy" is not a strategy for transcending the duality of the proletariat's consciousness of itself, but a way of directing it at an external enemy. But the internal enemy is the difficult and decisive one, and work refusal tactics are not enough to defeat him. It is the affirmative exercise of class powerat first, dual powerthat teaches the proletariat to view itself as a potential ruling class; this must be the authentic aim and meaning of autonomy.
The AO "strategy" has been kicking around the Italian movement for some time. The earliest evidence of it in the translated material is the 1965 article, "The Strategy of Refusal" by Mario Tronti, who has since found his political home in the Communist Party. The first portion of that essay I read as a string of banalities, but by the end he manages to reject Marxism altogether:
The working class point of view has no interest in defining the revolts and upheavals of the past as "revolutions." Furthermore, to hearken back to a set of "historical precedents" which are supposed to anticipate and prefigure the present movements of the workers this is always reactionary, always a conservative force acting to block the present movement and control it within the limited horizons of those who control the course of history today, of those who therefore control the development of society. Nothing is more alien to the working class point of view than the opportunistic cult of historical continuity; nothing more repugnant than the concept of "tradition." Workers recognize only one continuity that of their own, direct political experiences; one sole tradition that of their struggles.8
A year earlier, in an article which may have prefigured Tronti's subsequent political choice, he offered a bold defense of opportunism:
Today the strategic viewpoint of the working class is so clear that we wonder whether it is only now coming to the full richness of its maturity. It has discovered (or rediscovered) the true secret, which will be the death sentence on its class enemy: the political ability to force capital into reformism, and then to blatantly make use of that reformism for the working class revolution.9
Yet these early writings are shamelessly offered as AO's theoretical forebears, at least by its English-speaking sympathizers. (But we car safely assume that many of the points that receive only sketchy treatment in the translated material are undoubtedly extensively elaborated in Italian texts that have not yet appeared in English.)
One theme that AO shares in common with many of the armed movements and other European revolutionaries is the theory of "capitalist restructuration," in which capital, in order to combat the effects of the falling rate of profit,
faces the inescapable necessity of undertaking a process of planned action designed to strike directly at the composition of the working class. But this is built not simply on control of the cycle, but gives first priority to decomposing the cycle and reconfiguring it in a form suitable for the urgent requirements of command. In other words, the primary characteristic objective of restructuration is to achieve a new set of class divisions via a dis-articulation of the cycle of capital.10
To me this sounds very similar to a line of argument about automation and cybernetics common here in the fifties and sixties, which Martin Glaberman answered quite well:
The whole problem of automation cannot be gone into. But most of what has been written, from the right as well as from the left, is based on ignorance and misunderstanding. It is concerned entirely with the question of unemployment and has given rise to all sorts of theories about the imminent disappearance of the industrial working class or to theories of a new type of class struggle between the employed and the unemployed. All of this assumes that capitalism can automate at will and can overcome the falling rate of profit and the shortage of capital. The actual decline in the size of the working class in the fifties was reversed in the sixties. The increase in productivity has been greatest in utilities and communications (with substantial automation) and agriculture (no automation at all but a great increase in mechanization, chemical application and biological sciences) followed by mining (mechanization rather than automation). The increase in productivity in manufacturing was slightly below the national average and even further below the increase in productivity that took place in manufacturing in the decade following World War I with the introduction of the assembly line and the endless-chain drive. The spokesmen for management argue that automation in the long run increases jobs. The spokesmen for labor argue that automation decreases jobs. And in this way both of them avoid any discussion of why capitalism, under any form of technological advance, produces, as Marx insisted, an ever-growing army Fiat Mirafiori plant, Turin. of permanently unemployed....
What is involved in industry after industry is not simply the replacing of men by automated machines but the discarding of men, the moving of others and the bringing of still others into the industrial working class and the reorganization of the work process. Huge masses of capital have been destroyed.11
Glaberman, of course, noticed the same proletarian response to this state of affairs as AO, even though his analysis was compatible with classical Marxism:
Automation or mechanization, any change in the process of production is carried out at the expense of the workers. The resistance to this process is indicated negatively by the increasing proportion of supervisors in American industry and by the increased disciplinary weight of the union, its contracts and its grievance procedure. And the resistance is to the process as a whole and therefore does not take the traditional forms of union factions or changes in union administration.12
But the most remarkable problem is yet to come. Despite AO's claim that its line is revolution incarnate, its program is surprisingly meek. In the Revolutionary Struggle pamphlet, Italy: State Terror and Proletarian Counter-Power, one document is included as an appendix, from January 1974, which RS says "is very representative of the views of Autonomia Operaia." Here is the heart of its argument:
The link between wages and spiralling inflation must be broken we must break the link of wages to the ups and downs of the capitalist cycle of production. This is the first objective and aspect of our demand for a "guaranteed wage" a demand which plays the function of liberating wages from the cycle of capital . . . in a situation that capital tries to lay the burden of the crisis on the working class. The demand of "the guaranteed wage" has within it the refusal of workers to pay the cost of the crisis.
To break the link between wages and stagnation as well as all the different mechanisms of recession to break the link of wages to the labor market and the direct conditions of work . . . this is the second aspect and objective of our demand for a "guaranteed wage." It implies the refusal of the working class to pay the cost of the crisis and of the recession (costs which usually signify reduction of real wages, unemployment, etc.). The strength of our demand is related of course to the extent of the organization of the working class and puts the costs of the crisis onto the back of profits and not of the workers. The demand for a guaranteed wage builds on the refusal of workers to stand by the terrible conditions of the capitalist system and of the labor market as well as of rents.
But primarily the function of the demand for a guaranteed wage is to go beyond from and basically defeat the traditional strategy of the Trade Unions which never confronts the enemy of our class on a revolutionary manner but merely raises up the same capitalist banner of labor as an answer to unemployment with tactics such as the "right to work," "the releasing of the productive forces" . . . and they basically block all struggle.13
This also is an old argument. It was best known in the thirties and forties as one of the demands of Leon Trotsky's so-called Transitional Program, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International. The demand for a guaranteed wage was viewed as "transitional" because it was considered one that workers would consider reasonable and would fight for, but that capitalism could never allow. In the course of failing to win it, workers would be radicalized, the argument went. These assumptions were fatally disproven in the U.S. in 1955, when the United Auto Workers successfully negotiated the guaranteed wage without a strike.14 The rank and file, however, expressed its gratitude in a peculiar way:
But the workers were having none of this. An unprecedented wave of wildcat strikes broke out from coast to coast precisely when the contract was signed. All of them were directed at what was called "local grievances," that is, the assertion of workers' power in the plants, in the process of production. Reports in the press at that time (as well as reports during the 1964 strikes) indicated thousands of unresolved local grievances. That implies a total collapse of the union as representative of the workers in the day-to-day life in the plants. If the grievance procedure, in which the worker is represented by his union steward or committeeman, cannot settle grievances then what can it do, other than assist in disciplining workers? In these strikes the workers moved to settle the matter directly without the intervention of the union.
In fact, just as in the U.S. left, there seem to be two strongly divergent currents within the Autonomous movement itself one reformist, the other revolutionary but the debate between them has not yet become manifest in a fully conscious way. It is a debate as old as the workers' movement itself, however, summed up in a sentence from the Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World:
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
The "guaranteed wage" is today's form of "a fair day's wage."
This "conservative motto," as the Wobblies called it, is elevated to a matter of principle and defended theoretically by some sections of AO, as we have seen. But there are also those who seem at least to be moving beyond it, and coming close to calling it by its name. In "From Guaranteeism to Armed Politics," Oreste Scalzone writes:
Everyone can ultimately see that struggles of the "guaranteestic" kind . . . always become more minimal even regressive, and for that very reason, ineffective. The conservative and conserving content of these struggles catches our eye.16
But after registering this insight, Scalzone retreats to this:
On the other side of the argument lies the strength of an unprejudiced consideration of welfare, of public assistance tied to the emerging needs of society, and not concentrated on the infinite splitting of the social proletarian body, not tied to the simultaneous strengthening of the system of parties.
It is a question of introducing guaranteed wage as a device that will halt the fluctuation between neo-parasitism and "proletarianization" which prevails among so many, and in so many strata of society.17
This, I think, is also the theoretical rationale for the "wages for housework" line that holds so much sway among revolutionaries in Italy (but not in AO) and elsewhere.
This is a political impasse of major proportions a movement with one foot planted on the soil of reform, the other on the side of revolution, trying not to fall either way. It is ironic that AO, which has criticized the armed clandestine organizations for lacking confidence in the capacity of the masses in struggle, itself has little left of its own former politics but that faith. It has no real political strategy, and has lost its vision. The movement born out of the revolutionary upheavals of the "hot autumn" of 1969 could only confront the upsurge of 1977 with demands (from capitalism) for guarantees.
In order to see how much has been lost, let me quote extensively from the first issue of Potere Operaio (September 18-25, 1969), the paper with which most of today's leading Autonomists were then associated. Significantly, the article is titled "Red Europe," not "Red Italy."
It may sound like a Utopian joke. But couldn't it shortly become a practical path, even a project for political work? The struggle of the workers at FIAT has forced us to see the forms and content of the class struggle in Europe for the first time. Wild-cat strikes during the last three years have been shaking the Labor Party's control over the British working class. You can now see how the transfer of labor from the depressed areas to the lowest rungs of the hierarchy of industrial labor is important for the creation of class tensions.
The 15,000 workers that have been taken on since April form only a small part of that immense army of Italians mostly from the South who have left to be exploited in Switzerland, in Germany, in Belgium, and the other countries of Western Europe. They are certainly brothers of the Spaniards, Greeks, Africans, Arabs and West Indians that total one third of the European work-force. But they are also the brothers of 'the Ruhr miners who have been hunted off the black lands because the mines are being closed down, or the Swedish foresters deported to make out as best they can on the Volvo production lines, where the production rhythms are the most intense in the world. Yes, and this is not fantasy; in the integrated welfare state of Sweden working-class violence is going to reappear.
In the organization of unofficial strikes in Britain, in the occupations of the French May, in the struggles at FIAT, these nuclei of national minorities or immigrants have been the detonators, and often the leading element, in a process of mass struggle. They are thus the startingpoint for political work at a European level, provided you don't make the mistake of approaching them in their condition as "immigrants," but as was done in Turin within the struggle at the factory, and within the content ,that the struggle there proposes, The immediate step must be to cement a relationship with the working-class mass and with a certain process of struggle and organization. This experience of political struggle can be taken as a model for the student cadres in those countries where, in their view, the working class is still in a passive state. In Germany, for example.
If this project of internationalist political work is not to remain in the air, rather than carrying out a topographical reconnaisance of immigration, the sectors providing the propulsive force of the struggles should be identified. In the first place, these are in the automobile sector, just because the sector has a higher degree of worker mobility, and secondly in the transport sector. In any country the political organization of the working class in the auto and transport sectors will have the same content, and therefore the most objectively generalizable, in other words international, forms of struggle.18
Here was a carefully elaborated strategy for the proletariat of Western Europe. The article went on to express solidarity with the struggles of workers in Eastern Europe as well, though it stopped short of offering them a program. It has been a long descent from that revolutionary vision to the politics of Negri, Scalzone, and the others today, though the roots of the movement's opportunist tendencies were present very early in the writings of Tronti that have never been repudiated.
Can AO recapture the vision of a decade past, or is it "in the stage of irreversible decline,"19 as BR dissident Valerio Morucci says? I think Morucci's judgment is premature, if for no other reason than that there is a positive mass aspect of AO whose vitality is largely independent of its leadership's political and theoretical shortcomings.
There is no doubt that the Autonomous political current is growing as the left wing of Europe's revolutionary Marxists, and that Italy is its womb. It is surely to the credit of this movement that its ideas have won the support of a large, formerly anarcho-syndicalist movement in Spain, and of Revolutionary Struggle in Ireland, as well as dubious beginnings in France and Germany. A political line that strikes a responsive chord among revolutionary communists in developed (one might even say overdeveloped) Italy and dependent Ireland should certainly give pause. But as long as the movement's theoretical fountainhead in Italy is dominated by the quantity of its output, rather than the quality of its insight, it is only marking time.
Unless Autonomia Operaia can recapture the spirit of 1969, it is certain to be swept aside by the next revolutionary upsurge of the European proletariat, rather than to be chosen to guide the revolution to victory.
*In the debate over the Red Brigades dissident papers, there are times when the editors of Ripening of Time cut some important political points, or translated some passages ambiguously. In these instances I have used the translations in semiotext(e), Volume III, Number 3, Italy: Autonomia Post-Political Politics (New York, Columbia University, 1980). For the rest of this essay, the former is cited as RoT, the latter as I:A. In the I:A translation, "The O." (organization) refers to the Red Brigades.return to text
1. See "C'e TFBI dietro 1'inchiestra del '7 aprile'?", Lotta Continua, October 10, 1979, page 4.[return to text]
2. See, for example, Thomas Sheehan's essay, "Italy: Behind the Ski Mask," in New York Review of Books, August 16, 1979, and Sheehan's exchange with Armando De Palma, Paul M. Ho well, and Martin Glaberman in the NYPB letters section, April 17,1980.[return to text]
3. ''Domination and Sabotage" is currently available in three English translations. One, an entire issue of Strike, Volume 3, Number 1, October 1979, published by Strike Press, Toronto, and distributed by WW3 Books, New York, has been denounced by Negri's associates in Padua and New York as a provocation, because its graphics and layout tend to link the text of the article with the actions of the Red Brigades; it was published without the author's knowledge or permission, and the translator(s) misunderstood some of his central political concepts. The approved translation is contained in Red Notes, Working Class Autonomy and the Crisis Italian Marxist Texts of the Theory and Practice of a Class Movement: 1964-79 (London, CSE Books, 1979), pages 93-137. Excerpts appear also in Italy: Autonomia Post-Political Writings, which is Volume III, Number 3 (New York, Columbia University, 1980) of semiotext(e), pages 62-71.[return to text]
4. Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Volume One (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1963 and 1969), page 388.[return to text]
5. Ibid., pages 387-388. Marx wrote:
A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor compendia and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we look a little closer at the connection between this latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as "commodities." . . .
The criminal moreover produces the whole of the police and of criminal justice, constables, judges, hangmen, juries, etc.; and all these different lines of business, which form equally many categories of the social division of labor, develop different capacities of the human spirit, create new needs and new ways of satisfying them. Torture alone has given rise to the most ingenious mechanical inventions, and employed many honorable craftsmen in the production of its instruments.
The criminal produces an impression, partly moral and partly tragic, as the case may be, and in this way renders a "service" by arousing the moral and aesthetic feelings of the public. He produces not only compendia on Criminal Law, not only penal codes and along with them legislators in this field, but also art, belles-lettres, novels, and even tragedies, as not only Mullner's Schuld and Schiller's Rauber show, but also [Sophocles'] Oedipus and [Shakespeare's] Richard the Third. The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life. In this way he keeps it from stagnation, and gives rise to that uneasy tension and agility without which even the spur of competition would get blunted. Thus he gives a stimulus to the productive forces. While crime takes a part of the superfluous population off the labor market and thus reduces competition among the laborers up to a certain point preventing wages from falling below the minimum the struggle against crime absorbs another part of this population. Thus the criminal comes in as one of those natural "counterweights" which bring about a correct balance and open up a whole perspective of "useful" occupations.
The effects of the criminal on the development of productive power can be shown in detail. Would locks ever have reached their present degree of excellence had there been no thieves? Would the making of banknotes have reached its present perfection had there been no forgers? Would the microscope have found its way into the sphere of ordinary commerce (see Babbage) but for trading frauds? Doesn't practical chemistry owe just as much to adulteration of commodities and the efforts to show it up as to the honest zeal for production?
The next sentence is the one invoked by the humorless Professor Negri. I was especially astonished to read this cited seriously, because for years I have enjoyed reading it aloud to comrades who have expressed doubt that Marx had a lighter side, as well as to proponents of various "new working class" theories.[return to text]
6. Red Notes, page 124; Strike, page 7.[return to text]
7. Red Notes, page 124; Strike, page 8.[return to text]
8. Red Notes, page 13; this passage is replaced with an ellipsis in semiotext(e), page 34, leaving Tronti to appear to be more of a Marxist than he actually is.[return to text]
9. "Lenin in England," Red Notes, page 3.[return to text]
Toni Negri, "Reformism and Restructuration" (May 1973), Red Notes, page 33. Negri's italics.[return to text]
11. Martin Glaberman, "'Be His Payment High or Low' The American Working Class in the Sixties," International Socialism No. 21 (Summer 1965), later reprinted as a pamphlet by Facing Reality (1966, 1967, 1969) and Bewick Editions/New England Free Press (1975).[return to text]
12. Ibid.[return to text]
13. Revolutionary Struggle, RS Notes number 7, pages 17-18. Ellipses in original.[return to text]
14. There was, however, a militantsounding song that may have caused the bosses to quake in their boots. See "Song of the Guaranteed Wage" in Edith Fowke and Joe Glazer, Songs of Work and Freedom (New York Dolphin Books, 1961), pages 162-3. Naturally Glazer credits UAW leaders in 1954, not Trotsky in 1938, with the idea.[return to text]
15. Glaberman, op. cit. See also, Martin Glaberman, "The Nationwide Auto Workers' Wildcat" in Correspondence, Volume 2, Number 9 (1955), later reprinted in a pamphlet, Union Committeemen and Wildcat Strikes (Detroit, Correspondence, 1955, and Bewick Editions, 1971).[return to text]
16. semiotext(e), page 81. Scalzone's italics.[return to text]
17. Ibid., pages 82-83. Scalzone's italics.[return to text]
18. Potere Operaio A Selection (supplement to Potere Operaio number 17, March 28-April 4, 1970), Milan, pages 12-13.[return to text]
19. semiotext(e), page 275.[return to text]