Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Brigate Rosse and Minority Revolution in Italy, 1969-1982

“Once one has overcome the objection that murder per se is a crime, all that remains is to believe one is in the right against one’s enemy and to possess the power to obliterate him”.
Karl Heinzen, "Murder"


Although the history of the events we are about to examine begins with the 1969 Piazza Fontana massacre, I can’t help but feel that our analysis should begin at an earlier date, namely with the arrival of what Fred Halliday has called, “the great displacement”. This term was coined by Halliday so as to refer to “the gradual divergence of revolution from the more developed societies […] even as the myth retained its hold within the developed West”.[i] It is my view that the same criteria applied by Halliday to substantiate his claim, can be counterpoised to account for the emergence of terrorism. The fading away of the idea of revolution as a mass attraction, its enduring appeal among residual groups in society, as well as the shifts in resources, military technology and administrative capability are all factors unpropitious for revolutionary events, but quite befitting the underground struggle of the professional terrorist.[ii] The objection might be raised that what happened in Italy in 1969 was nearly a revolution. Yet this was precisely what it was; ‘nearly’ a revolution, that is to say Italy was at the time in a pre-revolutionary situation. To consider this a revolution would be to make the same mistake as the Brigate Rosse terrorists did in their assessment of the situation.
I feel that the construction of a formal typology of terrorism should not be among the concerns of this essay. However, in want of an identifiable point of reference, I will borrow Chalmers Johnson’s definition of what he terms as the terrorism of Marxist Revolutionary Groups.[iii] We must stress the difference here between the aforementioned type of terrorist activity, which Johnson associates more with the Uruguayan Tupamaros, than with the ‘syndicalism of immaturity’ practiced by such groups as the Weathermen in the US, or the Baader-Meinhoff gang in West Germany. The discrepancies between the two arise when such criteria of identification are employed as the intellectual profundity of each movement, the degree of consistency attained between terrorist theory and praxis – namely, the self-perception of the group and the correlation of the latter’s actions to this professed self-image – or its technical sophistication in carrying out operations. A pointer towards this manner of classification is the vicarious character of the RAF protest which rested on a subjective identification, at a ‘play-acting’ level, with Palestinians, Black Power militants in the US, and other oppressed bodies of mankind. The BR differ fundamentally on this count, given that their own field of struggle, as proposed in their own writings, was not so much the Vietnam jungle, or the black ghetto in the US, as was the local industrial plant in Turin or Milan. Anti-imperialism, in the form of anti-Natoism, was a component of the BR ideology. Yet, this has to do more with an analysis of the indigenous situation and the role performed by Nato in sustaining it (blocking the revolutionary élan of the Italian working-class), than it was an expression of solidarity towards foreign revolutionaries.[iv]
A few qualifications are needed before we go on, with respect for the meanings we ascribe to the term ‘terrorism’. To be sure, I will not be using terrorism in its narrow sense, as the systematic effort carried out by certain groups to induce terror in intended subjects. As we shall see this definition is disproved be the actual political evolution of the BR, the strategic plan of which cannot be accurately described in such simplistic terms.[v] In one sense, the purpose of this essay is to show how the distinction among terrorists and urban guerrillas is a tenuous one. I am not endorsing Laqueur’s superficial claim that ‘urban guerrilla’ is “in fact a public-relations term for terrorism”.[vi] Nor am I agreeing with Gillespie who distinguishes between the two on the grounds of the predictability and discriminate nature of guerrilla violence.[vii] My claim is that you can find both dimensions in a single movement, as the history of the BR seems to suggest. Moreover, I believe that this transformation is more the result of external pressures – competition with the State apparatus, lack of popular support – than it is a willful strategic choice on the part of the group.[viii]
In view of the above I shall also try to establish the connection between the State as an agent of terror, and the emergence of terrorism in the liberal environment, a link most instrumental in the case of Italy. Sanguinetti has pointed us to the right direction, not by dint of his simplistic separation of different genres of terrorism (offensive / defensive) but by incorporating the State as an ineluctable part of our definition of the phenomenon. I feel that the gradual militarization of the Italian state apparatus, along with the use made by state officials of minority revolution in defeating the militant working-class movement – which was then on the ascendant – while legitimating the parliamentary regime’s status, points to patterns of thought which are by no means absent from conventional interpretations of our theme. For what transpired in Italy in 1969 was no less than a legitimacy crisis of the State.

1. Factors of Terrorist Development

1.a A Working-Class Predicament

In Andre Malraux’s novel Man’s Estate, we come across the archetypal image of the revolutionary terrorist that is portrayed in the character of Chen, a Westernized young Chinese who creates his own ideology of terrorism. Having resorted to professional terror in order to evade his own loneliness and anguish, Chen becomes consumed by terrorism as an end-in-itself. As he lacks faith in anything, he only finds it possible to believe in his own powers of destruction; and his sense of isolation, which increases in proportion with the killings he commits, is the natural outcome of a life of which death is the climax.
I do not think it improper to attempt a transposition of the existentialist predicament of Malraux’s terrorist, upon the condition of the Italian working-class at the time when left-wing terrorism in Italy made its original, dramatic debut. I attempt such a correlation with the greatest care and only on the level of symbolism. But as Cohn-Bendit wrote, commenting on the gradual erosion of trust between a trade-union bureaucracy defending its own vested interests, and a French working-class who was becoming increasingly aware of this fact, “the workers [had] lost faith not only in the trade-unions, which they are fully justified to do, but have grown skeptical of all working-class movements”.[ix]
Same anxieties, and a tantamount loss of faith. The predicament before which the working-class found itself thereby, was having to choose between an attitude of apathy and ‘philosophical’ resignation, and an excess of militancy underscored by the realization that one was undertaking an ‘insulated’, as it were, struggle. Insulated in the sense of a lack of outlets into a legal framework of action, as well as, from a mass labor movement, which after 1968, appeared as having squandered yet another historical opportunity.
One should not be so hasty as to conclude that Cohn-Bendit’s remarks are deprived of a point of reference in the Italian situation. We shall see in the following section that there are certain regularities, which run through the historical condition of both the French and Italian working-classes. I locate those in, a) the strong presence of a mass Communist Party with formative influence upon the conduct of working-class politics, and b) in the transition phase of capitalist development that had precipitated the social upheavals which led to terrorism. Only in this manner will we be able to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of Italian terrorism not merely as the work of a handful of redneck Marxists with a provincialist outlook of their struggle, but in connection with the broader social and economic processes that impelled them into action.
So let us move on to the international dimension, which underlined the emergence of leftist militancy in Italy.

1.b The International Backdrop

The hidden hallmark of Western Marxism is that it was largely a product of defeat. Born of the failure of proletarian revolutions in the advanced zones of European capitalism after the Great War, it developed within an ever-increasing scission between socialist theory and working-class practice.[x] The Marxist tradition did not ‘stop’ from 1924 to 1968 as Sartre was later to claim; but it advanced via an unending detour from any revolutionary political practice.
This breach between theory and praxis so debilitating in the context of a Marxist political philosophy was the product of a specific historical conjunction. Following the rise of the Bolsheviks to power after World War I, there was a wave of revolutionary fervor that swept across Europe and mobilized the European working-class. Counter-revolutionary intervention in Soviet Russia aimed at weakening the young revolutionary regime, but also served the purpose of isolating the Russian revolution tightly from the rest of Europe during the three years of most acute social crisis for the imperialist order in the whole continent, and so allowed the proletarian risings outside the Soviet Union to be successfully checked.[xi] By the time the Third International was founded it was too late to have any impact on the pivotal battles of the post-war conjuncture.
The natural consequence of this was the gradual subordination of the social-democratic apparatuses of Western Europe, ill equipped with the sluggish dynamic of the debacle in which their spontaneous uprisings resulted, to the triumphant Bolsheviks who had just succeeded in consolidating their revolution at home. The centralized structures of the International, which were created thereupon, were soon to be subjected to systematic Stalinization, following the dictator’s rise to power through the bureaucratic machinery of the CPSU.
This is of interest to us for two reasons in particular:
a) Because therein lay the historical causes for the progressive degeneration of the Communist Parties of Western Europe, and consequently of the PCI, which may account for their political and theoretical impotence in times of intense social struggle.[xii] Their allegiance was with Stalinist Russia, a fact exemplified in the fluctuations of Communist policy on questions of alliances with other national political parties, corresponding to the political maneuvers of the Soviet Union in the international arena.[xiii] To be sure, this vacillation was never between revolution and reform. It was more a matter of exchanging one official enemy (Anglo-Saxon Imperialism, after the Hitler-Stalin pact) for another (Fascism, after the Nazi attack on the S.U.).
b) Because, in the interwar period, Stalinism combined with fascism, to scatter and destroy the potential bearers of an indigenous Marxist theory united to the mass practice of the Western European proletariat. Under these conditions, the revolutionary unity of theory and practice that had made possible classical Bolshevism was ineluctably undermined.[xiv] One could claim that the terrorists aimed precisely at recapturing that forsaken dimension of Marxist theory, albeit classical Marxists never accepted terrorism as a revolutionary method on its own accord.
Undoubtedly, capitalist development and rationalization of production played their own part in creating the social tensions of which terrorism was a product. What is striking is the regularity with which economic patterns emerge in those countries where terrorist organizations operated with some success. In Italy, the ‘economic miracle’ of the late 1950s, early 1960s, had either left unchanged vast parts of Italy’s south or helped to create new social frictions.[xv] People who had survived for generations on the edge of the productive economy (agriculture) were suddenly and with understandable trauma, thrust into an industrial civilization comprising new living standards and a desire for effective representation and political power. The similarities with the process of economic modernization taking place in the US and France in the same period, are too obvious to miss.[xvi]
It has been suggested that a strong indigenous terrorist tradition notwithstanding, the Brigate Rosse operated on the basis of an international, imported model of organization. In this connection, we have to stress the demonstration effect not so much of the Cuban revolution but rather of the urban guerrilla organized by the Tupamaros group in Uruguay. If Castro showed that a rural guerrilla could be successful in conquering power, the Tupamaros demonstrated that the same venture was not impossible for a guerrilla instituted in the cities.[xvii]
Halliday has shown how the international conjunctural crises of the sixties, embodied in the neutralization of American power in Vietnam and the post-war wave of Third World revolutions, had contributed in the formulation of a novel revolutionary creed, which has come to be known as the foco theory of revolution.[xviii] Apart from calling for the formation of rural guerrillas in underdeveloped areas, where they could act as the motors for revolution, the foco was projected in New Left analysis as the essential precondition for guaranteeing the unity of the Left. Praxis, in the form of violence, occupied a central position in the theories of such scholars as Fanon and Debray, who saw in it a cathartic experience and a means for building a revolutionary consciousness.[xix]
Finally, a discussion of the role of foreign states supporting terrorism is indispensable here, if only to dispel the sinister myth that the BR were no more than the covert instrument of Soviet foreign policy. Surely the BR was not without international links.[xx] But those were not specific enough so as to warrant a claim that their actions were externally motivated. The fact the BR commandoes carried Czech firearms reveals not so much their submission to Soviet policy, as it confirms their established connections with the global network that is built around terrorism, the workings of which Laqueur has compared to those of a multinational corporation.[xxi]
Robert Moss has also put this concept of Soviet surrogate warfare forth with regard to what he saw as the gradual ‘Sovietization’ of the pan-European trade union confederation.[xxii] Apparently, the two positions are at odds with each other, as evinces from the militant anti-unionism of the major left-wing terrorist groups that were active in Europe during the seventies. If considered together, these claims present us with a spectacle of a free Europe besieged in all directions by the threat of communist subversion. However, this assumption misses the fact that the USSR was essentially a power of the status quo, owing as it did its status as a superpower to a standing arrangement in the realm of international relations. The proof which Moss finds in Clause IV of the constitution of the British Labor Party of the latter’s ‘communist’ proclivities, could equally be sited for the purpose of affirming the commitment of the Soviet regime to the ideal of freedom, as professed in the 1936 USSR constitution.

1.c Some Necessary Specifications

Before we move our focus of analysis exclusively to Italy, a few things need to be said about the purpose and the epistemological approach of this essay. The reader may have noticed that we have included the premise of minority revolution in our central title. It follows that my intention is not to study the terrorism of the BR as an aberration of Italian politics, without reference to the social and political context that may enable us to form a more comprehensive view of the subject. Also, I feel that, what Herbert Marcuse has termed the “internal development of [capitalist] society”[xxiii], should not be discarded as an explanatory instrument for understanding the method and nature of the struggle of the brigatista.
When an armed group apparently belonging to the BR invaded the office of the Christian Democrat Filippo Peschiera, the victim asked a young militant why was it that things had come to this. “The system forces us”, he answered, “against this bourgeois power there is no other response”.[xxiv] Such pronouncements on the part of terrorists have induced scholars from the behavioral sciences to study the pathology of terrorism in an apparently free and democratic society. Moss’ notion of the ‘rhetoric of vilification’ may be understood in those terms, as a linguistic device employed by the terrorist to mystify a social reality fundamentally different from the latter’s perception of it.[xxv]
It is my view that subjectivism is a component element of any political viewpoint. But to endorse Moss’ concept of ‘vilification’ would be to hegemonically proclaim that our own personal interpretation of a certain condition is uncritically and objectively ‘true’.[xxvi]
I am not proposing that terrorist claims about the ‘system’ should be accepted at face value. But Moss’ concept of vilification serves to conceal the real social pressures which underlie the situation of the young terrorist by inflating the subjectivist element within them. It is such a hegemonic critique of terrorism that I do not wish to venture, for I believe that to do so would be to advance a circular argument, which passes a condemnation not only of terrorism, but also of political violence in a more general sense.[xxvii]
Furthermore, Noel O’Sullivan has persuasively argued against the complacent view, which tends to neatly place violence at the fringes of democratic political practice, denying any connections that may exist between terrorism and mainstream democratic thought.
O’Sullivan argues that, “the roots of terrorism lie […] at the very heart of the modern democratic tradition itself”.[xxviii] It is quite plausible to show the continuity which exists between the form of ideological politics that appeared in the course of the French Revolution and the formulation of those concepts, which, time and again, have been so central in the theory and practice of terrorism. The insertion of utopia in the conduct of politics, the Rousseauist conviction in the natural goodness of man and the doctrine of popular sovereignty are intellectual preconditions without which the expressed goals of terrorism would hardly be intelligible.
However, I can but disagree with O’Sullivan in positing that the second qualification for identifying the terrorist is “the contrast between [his] illegal practices […] with the constitutional procedures prescribed for established state representatives”.[xxix] I believe that this approach is cyclical and therefore begs the question.[xxx] A dialectical definition of terrorism is possible only if it is underlined by a critical approach towards the system of which terrorism is the offspring. Much has been written on the love-hate relationship between our present theme and liberal democracy. Laqueur has concluded from this that, “the more the injustice and repression, the less terrorism there is”.[xxxi] But one proposition does not follow logically from the other. And even if we accept Laqueur’s inference we should note that Soviet Russia has not been without its ‘terrorists’. Trotsky regarded the Ukrainian Makhnovites as a terrorist movement and so did the Polish nomenclature the armed bands of workers who had split with Solidarity.

2. Italian Terrorism; Fighting the Hydra

“And when luck will have it that the people no longer have any confidence in anybody, as sometimes happens, having been deceived in the past by things or by men, what necessarily befalls is ruin”.
Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy

2.a A Historicopolitical Perspective

Scarcely has there been a country with a more tumultuous history than that of Italy after the Risorgimento. Coyle points out that the very unification of the Italian peninsula was the result of a “minority campaign of liberals and progressives among the aristocracy and the educated among the bourgeoisie”.[xxxii] Such a coalition of forces could hardly provide a sufficiently broad platform from which a strong sense of allegiance to the new state could emerge.[xxxiii]
To be sure, community cleavage in the Italian state is based much less on ethnological, cultural, or religious divides, than it is on ideological, socio-economic and geographical ones. And it was the pronunciation of those endemic disparities by the ravages of an economy in transition that caused the latent centrifugal forces in Italian society to burst forth emphatically during the severe crisis of the late 1960s, early 1970s.
These days saw the emergence of the militant student movement, which, ironically, had originated in Trento University, arguably the most conservative stronghold of traditional Christian Democracy (DC) in Italy.[xxxiv] The protests were quick to link up with working-class struggles in the factory. The unions were being criticized and bypassed, their tactics debated by the grassroots and overruled. While official trade-unionism typically concentrated its demands in the area of wage-levels, the autonomous groups were putting forward proposals on a much wider front.[xxxv] This new protest reflected the demands of the CPM (Collettivo Politico Metropolitano) for a heightened level of organization among the workforce that would serve to radicalize the struggle and achieve the optimum level of confrontation, thus encouraging the political growth of the masses and a degree of independence from the patronage of trade union revisionism.
However, we should not succumb to the parochialism of those authors who have hastily posited a linear sequence of continuation connecting the protest movements of 1967-9, with the violence that developed thereafter.[xxxvi] Italy had so long flirted with the possibility of a popular revolution that it would not be a misrepresentation of the situation to quote Guy Debord in writing that the country had qualified as “being for the moment the most advanced country in the slide towards proletarian revolution… also the most modern laboratory of international counter-revolution”.[xxxvii]
The interplay between extraneous pressures and domestic political conditions can be seen more clearly if we examine the way in which the historical position of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) had evolved over the years. Togliatti’s doctrine of the ‘New Party’ amounted to an outright abandonment of the revolutionary principles expounded in the Livorno Congress, and inaugurated a new alliance strategy for the PCI which sought to subsume the idea of proletarian revolution to a theory of evolutionism. Apart from setting a historical precedent for the compromesso storico, the position advocated by Togliatti was designed to steer a middle path amidst two ostensibly conflicting, yet mutually sustained imperialisms – that of the Stalinist leadership of the CPSU and that of the Allied Military Command (AMC), and subsequently Nato, to which the Council of National Liberation (CLN) in Rome was virtually accountable.
The Stalinist outlook of the PCI has had a debilitating effect on the development of an indigenous communist movement, albeit the preconditions existed in Italy for the creation of a distinct Marxist culture, in agreement with what Gramsci had envisioned in his ‘Prison Writings’.[xxxviii]
While the commitment to a violent overthrow of the regime was retained on a grassroots level, in the higher echelons of the Party, revolutionary ideals had long been replaced by the maxims of realpolitik, which although venerably adhered to, were imperfectly practiced by Togliatti, Berlinguer and company. The policy of conciliation espoused by the PCI appears as particularly ill inspired in the face of a stern commitment on the part of the Allies not to allow the ascent of the Communists to power. This was more than a vague verbal threat, as evinces from the AMC’s post-war demand for the partisans and the CLNs who had fought against the fascists to surrender all their weapons in the wake of liberation. Foreign intervention, much like the ever-present fear of an impending coup d’etat, was far from the stuff of which leftist mythology is made. Both were an integral part of the realities, which comprised the Machiavellian scenery of post-war Italian politics.
Fred Halliday has shown how international networks of political power were thrown off balance in the period between 1970-80.[xxxix] Italy was not unaffected from this conjunction of events. The progress of left-wing politics in Italy, France, Spain and Portugal – countries that, according to Fernando Claudin constituted “the weakest link in the imperialist system”[xl], was the cause of considerable uneasiness within the Western camp, for, in the words of Henry Kissinger it was “bound to affect relations between Western Europe and the United States”. And far from adopting an attitude of resignation towards this development, Kissinger put forward the question of “what we should be doing about it”.[xli]
The extent to which Kissinger’s fears were well-founded is a matter open to debate since, in more than one occasions, the Communists had proved themselves a most useful ally for the ruling elites.[xlii] It is hard to imagine a place where Andre Gorz’s comments on the complacency and reactionary character of institutionalized trade unionism and of Communist Party bureaucracy have been empirically attested and corroborated more times than they have in Italy.[xliii] So much so that the more radical elements of the left had to recompose themselves into groups of extra-parliamentary opposition (Manifesto Group, Potere Operaio, Autonomia), directing their action against the alienating immobilism of Italian politics. It was from such groups that the original Brigate Rosse militants were recruited, and not from among the ranks of student participants in the protest movement of the sixties.
It emerges clearly from our overview that although the PCI had retained the ability to issue calls for mobilization that the workers were all too ready to heed, its status as a hegemonic party capable of absorbing and domesticating fringe movements situated at the extreme left of the political spectrum had been steadily diminishing. The image of the Party of Struggle was shattered with Berlinguer’s mellow political stance and activists were forced to ask themselves whether “a compromise without history or a history without compromise is to be preferred”.[xliv]

2.b The State

Our account of the causes of Italian terrorism will be incomplete unless we devote some space to the nature and character of the bedeviled Italian state, a construct lying indeed on the weakest of foundations. We have already noted the lack of identification which underlies the attitude towards the state of the average Italian citizen. Furlong has sought to comprehend this phenomenon with respect for the contradictions that are inherent in the constitution of the Italian state, most readily visible in the practice of every-day politics in the post-war period “which has been characterized by the need to tolerate and bring within limits acceptable to constitutional practice two potentially revolutionary movements, the Marxist and the fascist”[xlv].
However, the true nature of the Italian state will remain inaccessible to us, so long as we purport to examine the impact that the aforementioned contradictions had on radicalizing the polity, but not on the radicalization of the state itself. In his polemic against what he calls ‘spectacular terrorism’, Sanguinetti explicitly contends that the overzealous activity of the parallel services in Italy was “not due to any pretended ‘deviations’ or ‘corruptions’, but, very militarily, [because of] simply executing orders given”.[xlvi]
Sanguinetti’s position is heavy with conspiratorial overtones. Yet it would be a distortion of fact not to acknowledge the complicity of the state in a series of fascist terrorist attacks, beginning with the massacre in Piazza Fontana, an operation explicitly directed against the working-class. What is even more alarming is the use that the state has made of such incidents, not, as frequently stated, simply to procure electoral gains, but rather to embark upon an all out offensive against proletarian mobilizations in an effort to quell a revolutionary upsurge which, by all accounts, was imminent at the time.[xlvii]
A strong case can be made, resting on the evidence of forty years of state political practice and official policy, that the raison d’etre of the Italian state has been informed by a particularly vigilant brand of anti-communism. The incessant succession in power of countless governments of ‘national unity’ and the instability which became the trademark of Italian politics [xlviii]thereof can be partly attributed to a determination not to ever include the Communists into a governmental coalition of any sort. On quite another level, that of street-violence, where the refined methods of parliamentary politics are of little use, anti-communism took on a much more crass, authoritarian form.
The explanation for this fact and for the consecutive security overkills, with which working-class demonstrations were usually met, is to be sought in the fascist residues within the official administrative structure of the state. As Furlong notes, ‘sanitized’ fascism “delivered both a core of administrative personnel, trained under the fascist dictatorship, within the civil service, the judiciary and the new regime”.[xlix] We can safely argue that the most important contribution of sanitized fascism was in fact that it guaranteed the exclusion of the PCI from government for fear of an extreme right-wing reaction which the fascists were in a position to launch.
This combined nicely with the intransigent attitudes of the Christian Democrats, whose anti-communism was encouraged by the Allies as a method of creating a compact social bloc opposing Communist political advances. Under this light, it would seem misconstrued for one to regard the energetic presence of fascist militants on the streets of Italian metropolitan centers as the principal factor responsible for the radicalization of working-class consciousness and politics. It is possible that the Clausewitzian conception of politics as war, which informs the subsequent theoretical writings of the Brigate Rosse, originated in the experience of young people who were drawn into politics through the violence they encountered in the streets.[l]
Yet it is my view that it was the paradoxical experience of living under a state apparatus which at the same time was liberal and authoritarian, a state which purported to uphold the supremacy of law while resting on an executive arbitrary, partial and violent in its formalism, finally, a state the collusion of which with the secret services divested it of much f its legitimacy, that shaped the militant consciousness of the brigatista:

“Above all it appears… [to be] a problem of violence suffered…; the first images are linked… to the attacks on various marches made by the police…; the first clear signals of an impossible situation… that had to be changed [occurred] at that time… that is… from these shocks of non-student demonstrations… attacked and that bring… as a cause of violent repression… the death… of [those] who went onto the street”.[li]

2.c Political Culture & Extra-Parliamentary Opposition

Robert Moss wrote that in countries where change is possible through the ballot-box, the use of violence for political ends is least likely to win any measure of public acceptance: “Hotheads from the ‘Angry Brigade’ who place a bomb in a British cabinet minister’s house and then announce that they intended to show their solidarity with trade unionists opposed to the Industrial Relations Bill will not get much of a hearing in a society that does not believe that it is legitimate for private groups to resort to political violence”.[lii] But it is a long way which separates Italy from Britain.
We mentioned before that Mazzini’s Young Italy was what we would now refer to as a terrorist organization. The history of the Italian nation-state is replete with minority groups committed to political activism that finally issued into organized violence and sometimes into terrorism. Carlo Pisacane and Enrico Malatesta are but a few representatives of a historical tradition which upheld a persistent and valued theme in Italian politics; that, against an arbitrary, corrupt and authoritarian state which often has recourse to violence, the use of counter-violence by the subjects or victims of this state apparatus is also legitimate.
The Italian constitution entails provisions which safeguard the freedom of opinion and the freedom from censorship. The prevailing political culture appears to tolerate even extreme expressions of dissent in published material and much that elsewhere might never reach the public eye is in circulation and readily available. But it is one of the endless paradoxes of the Italian political system that the formal guarantees of a liberal democracy and a relatively permissive political culture should coexist with the particularly exclusivist and repressive one-party, hegemonic political arrangement of the post-war era.
In any case, the contrast between a fairly open political culture, where ideas circulate freely, and a polarized political system in which two mass parties dominate not only parliament but also much of organized political society outside the legislature, resulted in the creation of an extra-parliamentary left the goal of which was to disrupt the monopoly of political power exercised by both the PCI and the DC. It seems that the modus vivendi of mutual toleration that had been established among parliamentary elites had failed to trickle down to society as a whole. The latter continued to be riven by overt class antagonism and acute political tensions.
Autonomia (an offspring of Potere Operaio) espoused a political line which supported the autonomy of the working-class vis-à-vis its traditional representative, the PCI. It is worth noting here, that the most rigorous and uncompromising critique against orthodox Communist practices, came from within the Communist Party itself.
The defection of the Il Manifesto group from the official structures of the PCI is a good case in point.[liii] If one wishes to go even further back in time, one will have to mention the internal debate sparked by the group led by Lucio Colletti, Pietranera and other young intellectuals who were influenced by the work of Galvano Della Volpe. Their philosophical insistence on the importance of ‘determinate scientific abstraction’, characteristic of Della Volpe’s work, could be read to imply the need for an analysis of Italian society in terms of the ‘pure’ categories of advanced capitalism with correspondingly advanced and aggressive political objectives to be pursued by the working-class contingent within it. This was at odds with PCI orthodoxy, which emphasized the backward and hybrid character of Italian society, necessitating more limited demands of a bourgeois-democratic, rather than a socialist type.[liv]
What this dissonance pointed to, was the reluctance of orthodox communists to assume leadership of a proletarian struggle, either conducted within the constitutional framework, or by means of extra-parliamentary activity. Albeit Colletti’s dramatic exit from the PCI in 1964, over the issue of democratization in the USSR and Western Communist parties, led to his preclusion from any organizational framework whatsoever, others undertook to reestablish the connection between historical materialism and socialist practice; namely, the militants of October 22, Potere Operaio (PO), Lotta Continua (LC) and so forth.
We must stress that these groups by no means constituted a united and homogenous political front. In fact, one might say that what originally glued them together was their mutual resentment of fascism (‘fascism’ being a blanket-term also denoting DC authoritarian tendencies and structural changes in production) their disapprobation of the orthodox Communist line and their belief in the irreconcilability of the contradictions that were at work in Italian society at the time.
The Piazza Fontana massacre along with the 1970 abortive coup d’etat carried out by Valerio Borghese, led the extreme left to a somewhat premature realization that Italy was in a state of latent, implicit civil war. As reads a 1970 publication of Colletivo Politico Metropolitano: “the development of a very contradictory process which split the entire social body down the middle and which tends to create tensions – think about the Piazza Fontana affair – that could bring the country to the brink… of civil war”.[lv] The secession of the Manifesto group was precipitated by the latter’s inability to convince the official party leadership that the country was heading towards an accentuation of the crisis rather than class compromise.
Even so, there was widespread disagreement among left-wing militants over the issue of how the proletariat should react in the face of State aggression. To be sure, the focus of the struggle was almost exclusively on the industrial working-class. Furthermore, violence played a prominent part in the process of self-assertion of the proletariat as an autonomous political force. As Toni Negri had written, “Proletarian opposition must consolidate itself in practical destruction, in subversion”.[lvi] The question was over the forms that this violence should take.
Organizations like the heterogeneous Lotta Continua emphasized the importance of mass violence (wildcat strikes, pickets, industrial sabotage, mass demonstrations, self-defense against the police and neo-fascist squads) as one revolutionary instrument among many.[lvii] Accordingly, PO saw the factory as the epicenter of the struggle, laying its stress on the internal character of mass struggle and on organizations spontaneously emerging within the movement to precipitate an overall seizure of power. In this connection, the violence propagated by the Sinistra Proletaria and its subsequent offshoot the BR, was criticized as no more than the violence of a revolutionary elite – exemplary, selective and organized.
It goes without saying that this was far from a debate of mere academic concern. Opposing views were acted out on the field, in what Moss has called the militants’ “battle for minds”.[lviii] In fact, it was this ongoing process of tactical innovation among competing groups of the extra-parliamentary left that in the end, and following the piecemeal decline of mass mobilization, led the groups who were formerly skeptical of the tactics employed by the BR, to make the transition themselves from mass agitation to armed struggle.
In passing, it is worth mentioning the position that Renato Curcio (one of the original founders of the BR) took towards the notion of armed insurrection when he was still a student at Trento University. In Lavoro Politico, a student journal of which he was editor, Curcio opposed, “philo-Castrosim and tactical adventurism… [by those who advocate] armed action in Italy… [These people are only] petits-borgeois in search of emotional experiences, not revolutionary proletarians”.[lix]

3. The Vanguard Hypothesis

3.a Brigate Rosse or the Compagni Che Sbagliano[lx]

After a conference held at Chiavari near Genoa towards the end of 1969, Curcio, Corrado Simoni and Franco Troiano, then still the leaders of the CPM announced their intention to extend the class struggle outside the factory and intensify it by means of a direct armed clash with the security forces of the state. Part of their statement read as follows: “It is not a question of winning suddenly and conquering everything, but of growing in a long period of struggle”.[lxi] This statement is in itself a refutation of the view that sees the BR as no more than a band of well-organized provocateurs, engaging in operations that, however spectacular, were largely irrelevant to Italian politics. It is clear from the groups theoretical writings that they attributed the Italian political crisis to long-term, structural economic causes. Therefore, their strategy was designed to correspond to the demands of a protracted revolutionary struggle.
Other criticisms have been launched against the BR on account of the latter’s voluntaristic perspective on the question of armed struggle. Negri has accused the organization of ‘collective spontaneism’ and a tendency of “fleeing from the difficulties, the problems, the determinate results, which are produced in the face of that complexity”.[lxii] His comments include the implicit suggestion that BR violence bordered on the 19th century anarchist strategy of the propaganda by deed which was highly voluntaristic and, one might add, spectacularly unsuccessful. Ernst Henry’s renunciation of the BR as an organization with roots exclusively in the Italian lumpenproletariat and moreover as an imitation of the ‘People’s Reprisal’, the 19th century underground society founded by the Russian anarchist Sergey Nechayev, runs along the same lines.[lxiii]
The criticism extended by other scholars, of a more liberal political persuasion, is concerned with what they see as the ‘indiscriminate’ violence practiced by the BR. In my view, the above arguments rest on what appear to be basic misconceptions about the nature of the BR as an organization and the nature of the terrorist phenomenon per se. To begin with, the assumption that BR violence was indiscriminate or arbitrary reflects a more generic conviction that all violence employed by private groups is arbitrary. The reason for this is probably the intention of distinguishing the violence of the terrorists from the coercive force of the liberal democratic state, which is usually described as essentially predictable, regulated and uniform.
Far from resting on a legalistic understanding of the matter, this distinction in essence reflects the difference in the means that are at the disposal of State and terrorist respectively. The question is not over the lack of criteria on which the terrorist bases his selection of targets, but rather over his failure, by dint of his limited capabilities, to exercise punitive violence in the regulated and uniform manner characteristic of the application of coercive sanctions by the state. Hence, we arrive at a purely technical differentiation between the two types of violence on which a claim to the legitimacy – or moral rectitude – of violent actions cannot be sustained.
Furthermore, the argument on arbitrariness discards one other basic fact; the concomitance of symbolism in the choice and execution of terrorist actions. It is reasonable to suggest that were the violence totally random, indiscriminate or arbitrary, the representativeness and educational effect of a terrorist operation would be undermined, or even completely disappear. Even, “attacks on the general public, such as those of the FLN”, says Furlong, “are carried with due regard for the symbolic use of the attack on public opinion at large”.[lxiv]
Henry’s contentions on the alleged ‘Nechayevism’ of the BR also merit an answer. It is true that the hierarchical organizational structure of the BR resembled the one which Nechayev had fashioned for his own revolutionary group. It is also true that during the course of their struggle, the internal administration of the organization became increasingly centralized and bureaucratic. But this model of oligarchic leadership was more reminiscent of Stalinist Russia than it was an imitation of the anarchist underground.
In theory, the organization was regimented according to a precise model. It consisted of a vertical structure (Brigade – Column – Executive) and a horizontal structure (the Mass Fronts). The work of the Fronts was to continually analyze the sector within their competence and to transform this knowledge into possible proposals for politically and socially motivated campaigns. It was then the responsibility of the Executive Committee (which held supreme authority within the organization) to utilize this information by organizing the campaigns concretely and delegating them to the individual Column. This was essentially a structure designed to ensure the participation of the brigatista-worker (workers affiliated with the BR) at Fiat or Alfa in the revolutionary effort and to educate him in the rudiments of the process of self-management. To be sure, these designs eventually succumbed to the pressures of the clandestine mode of struggle and were progressively subjected to the pressing defensive needs of the organization, “noticeably lowering the chances of the BR to expand its contacts in the factories”.[lxv]
With regard to the social bearings of the BR, it is safe to say that at least in its initial stages, the organization did not in fact draw a large number of recruits from among the alienated youth or the large numbers of unemployed produced by the rapid industrial growth of the preceding years, in short, from among the ranks of the lumpenproletariat. A substantive quota of BR militants came from working class backgrounds and quite a few of them were disillusioned or expelled political activists who had previously been active with the PCI (Franceschini) and the trade-union organizations (Paroli). In the following years, the militant student movement of 1977-9 was to provide an alternative source of membership at a time when the state was leaning heavily on the organization and only ten of the members of the original cadre were still at large.[lxvi]
In view of the above we can cursorily address another popular theme in the mythology of terrorism, namely that of dogmatism. It should be clear from what we have said so far that left-wing terrorism in Italy should not be perceived as a marginal phenomenon, dissociated in its causes and referential points from the more general political and social framework. Giorgio Bocca has referred to the ideological origins of the BR with the term of ‘Catho-communism’.[lxvii] From the premise that many BR operatives began their political careers in subsidiary organizations controlled either by the DC or the PCI, the conclusion is reached that the brigatisti and other terrorists had acquired a particularly intolerant and illiberal mindset towards opposing ideas and value-systems, as well as the propensity to adopt exclusivist and all-embracing world-views.
Another way of interpreting this same premise might be that the brigatisti had received some political experience within the legal framework before they became clandestine subversives. Taken to its logical conclusion this means that there was not anything endemically dogmatic about the terrorist’s cast of mind. Rather one should make allowance for the possibility that armed struggle signified not so much an exaltation of violence per se as a medium for the articulation of class-consciousness, but a conscious rejection of a parliamentary system which hitherto had functioned as a bastion of conservatism, in the absence of any meaningful political opposition.[lxviii]
There is o occultation of the concept of violence in the theoretical tracts produced by the BR. It was not until the final stages of dislocation of the armed struggle that military action gained an autonomous status vis-à-vis the rest of the proletarian movement, when, once again, the terrorist’s existential predicament is placed decisively to the forefront.[lxix]
Now that I hope we have shed some light on what the BR were not, let us go on and inspect the more positive features of the group, their goals and strategy. In an early publication the BR defined themselves as, “groups of armed propaganda whose fundamental task is to gain the solidarity and support of the proletarian masses for the Communist revolution… the action of the BR is therefore always in relation to the inescapable objectives of the mass movement… It is therefore necessary to pay the utmost attention so that the BR do not tend to constitute themselves as the ‘military wing of the masses’, [so that] they do not substitute themselves for them during the struggle”.[lxx]
Certainly other texts can be quoted where the conviction is stated that class autonomy is aggregated solely within the armed struggle. Yet the strategic transition from mass spontaneity to a more organized and coordinated form of class warfare expressed through a popular armed insurrection, could be realized only on the condition that the BR could successfully link their struggle to that of the factory. Hence, during the first phase of their campaign, BR actions were orientated towards a sort of armed support of the trade-union battle. This tendency was reflected upon the selection of targets against which the organization directed its inaugural attacks, of which the main purpose was to show that the workers were capable of defending their victories, and that the padroni (the bosses) were not beyond their reach.[lxxi] We need to stress here the pains that the BR took in justifying their actions to the working-class. A list of counter-proletarian crimes usually accompanied the indictment of each victim, indicative of the goal of the BR to obtain a foothold within the wider factory movements.
Moreover early BR operations were essentially defensive. Human casualties were low and the intent was largely symbolic. As Manconi writes, it was “Defensive even though armed, or rather armed because defensive”.[lxxii]
At the same time, a status of ‘double militancy’ was sustained by the organization, in an effort to combine clandestine activity with public political work. The aim of this practice was to generate an alternative form of power in the factories and working-class neighborhoods.[lxxiii] However, in May 1972 the group was subject to arrests and searches. The brigatisti were forced to recognize the impossibility of simultaneously carrying out double level activity. Whereas until that time only the tactical and defensive aspects of clandestinity had been taken into consideration, the BR now began to talk about the strategic scope of clandestinity.
The fusion with the NAP (Nuclei Armati Proletari) marked the arrival of the second phase of the BR struggle, which acquired a broader strategic trajectory, expanding on a national level. The interlocutors were no longer ‘petty’ managerial executives but the Fiat Corporation, that is to say the summit of economic and political power as far as Italy is concerned and the working-class in its entirety. Ironically, the escalation of the level of conflict and the decision to take the attack to the ‘heart of the state’, involved the progressive separation of the organization from the collective movements that had generated it. Intensifying the military campaign meant abandoning the logic of political intervention.
The decision for the formation of the ‘Party of Combat’, defined as “a party of fighting cadres… [the] advanced division of the working-class and thus a distinct and organic part of it”[lxxiv], bears testimony to the militarization of the conflict.[lxxv] In retrospect, this strategic shift of the BR seems ill-conceived, given that the neo-Gaullist state was, at the time, pursuing the restructuring of the organization of production within the factory, while adopting a set of institutional reforms with the objective of transforming the regime into a Presidential republic. It appears that the BR, far from having inflicted a blow on the ‘heart of the state’, had barely managed to scathe its coarse exterior. In any case, it was a vain undertaking, for as Leonardo Sciascia has commented: “The central error of the Red Brigades consists precisely in believing that they can succeed in striking at the heart of the State. The heart of the Italian State does not exist”.[lxxvi]
The last two periods of BR activity were subject to what has been called the ‘dialectic of confrontation’.[lxxvii] The organization found itself increasingly adopting a defensive posture and had to plan its operations in connection with internal problems, which did not reflect the needs of the social struggle and the level of awareness of the working-class base that they wanted to influence. With the formation of the Guardie di Finanza (Finance Guards), the special anti-terrorist corps headed by General Dalla Chiesa, the pressure was brought on the BR and some heavy blows were dealt against the militants by forces which were largely operating with a carte blanche from the state.
The BR response was a further escalation of violence, which furnished a threefold response. Firstly, to compensate for the disengagement of the armed struggle from the social venues of collective action which had become necessary in view of the intensification of state repression. Secondly, to hegemonize that sector of the protest movement milieu that was already inclined towards armed struggle, in an attempt to create the PCC (Partito Communista Combattente). This was a plan which called for coordination and the creation of a shared structure of loyalty within the heterogeneous political environment of clandestine subversives. The BR aspired to promote itself to the role of a vanguard party, directing and monopolizing the struggle. Thirdly, to complete the new task, which the group had set itself, which was no longer identified with the defense of collective movements, but rather with the destruction of the repressive infrastructure of capitalist power itself.
Insofar as this was to be achieved in accordance with the military logic of the maximization of the real, physical losses of the enemy, a shift towards the more typical modes of terrorist action was inescapable. The BR was now engaged in a campaign of physical elimination of individuals who were considered as impairing the terrorist cause. The regressive tendencies displayed in this last phase of BR activity became obvious when the group began to attack individuals because, “in carrying out a task in a complex mechanism, they were symbols of the system that the BR wanted to destroy”.[lxxviii]
By striking the members of certain social groups, the terrorists hoped to promote a generalized sense of terror in order to block at various points the functioning of the command networks. The kidnapping and death of Aldo Moro should be understood in these terms, as both an instrumental operation and an emblematic gesture. It was instrumental in the sense that it impeded the final completion of the compromesso storico, while mobilizing the armed groups operating in Italy into raising the level of attack against the State. The symbolism of the action was that it was directed against the very person who masterminded and was largely responsible for bringing about the rapprochement between the Communists and the Christian Democrats.[lxxix] Obtaining some type of recognition from institutional authorities was a third, and failed, objective of the Moro killing. The PCI stridently opposed any negotiation that would provide the BR with some type of quasi-legitimate status, while, in typical Italian fashion, the “crucial decisions over whether or not to negotiate and what other measures to undertake were not made by parliament or by the cabinet”.[lxxx] Under this light, the blame for Moro’s death does not lay exclusively with the BR, or the PCI, since it was up to the national executive of the DC, in conjunction with the prime minister, to arrive at a final decision.[lxxxi]
The effect of the Moro kidnapping was to generate strong rifts and divisions both among different clandestine affiliations and within the BR organization itself. Splinter groups developed who accused the orthodox BR of militarism, understood as a separation from the political logic of intervention. Quite decisive in this respect were the indictments of the imprisoned first-generation members of the BR who accused the standing Executive Committee of bureaucratic and military deviationism and demanded its dismissal. Also, the inadequate functioning of the fronte di massa were used by a splinter group headed by Adriana Faranda and Valerio Morucci, as an argument against the outdated Stalinism of the organization. They argued that communism already existed in the hegemonic figure of the ‘mass worker’, and was embodied in the latter’s ability to act as a model ‘socialized individual’.
Albeit the Committee vehemently denounced those claims, this was more than they could do against state repression, which, following the Moro affair became all the more vigilant. Adding to the provisions of the Reale Law – harsher sentences for terrorist crimes, warrant to arrest on suspicion, restrictions on bail arrangements – was the 1978 decree which granted the long-held wish of the security forces to be able to interrogate legally in the absence of a defense councilor. Furthermore, the confessions of the pentiti (‘repentant’) militants resulted in a wave of arrests of terrorist militants and sympathizers and the discovery of a number of hideouts and arms caches. The BR increasingly found themselves engaged in a brutal battle for survival to which a veneer of ideological dignity was lent through the notion of the ‘autonomous’ class-struggle. Hence, by crossing over to the practice of the ‘politics of will’, the BR ceased to be political and became anti-political.[lxxxii]

4. By Way of Conclusion

“From this it comes about that in this much milder century the art of ruling despotically has become more subtle and is based on not only well-concealed and varied but firm foundations that so long as the tyrant does not commit excesses, or very rarely, against the mass of the people and almost never against individuals except under the guise of some appearance of legality, tyranny seems assured of lasting for ever”.

Vittorio Alfieri, On Tyranny

Hannah Arendt has argued that acts of extreme violence in modern states may be a form of desperate revolt against the anonymity and the impersonal nature of the bureaucratic state, the ‘rule by Nobody’. Ironically, it is in the context of this bureaucratic apparatus of administration, which, by virtue of its complexity renders the conspiratorial tactics of Blanquism obsolete, that the modern terrorist has evolved his apprehensions of State power and his theorem of resistance. The Brigate Rosse largely ignored this complexity having internalized the reductionist Leninist concept of a bourgeois State that is essentially sustained by its capabilities in the conduct of organized force. It is indeed paradoxical that this should happen in the fatherland of Gramsci, the one Western Marxist who took pains to analyze the intricate processes by which industrial democracies exercise their authority over the multitude.
In this respect, terrorism is counter-revolutionary. BR activity facilitated the containment of a working-class movement, which was “the most advanced and most radical in Europe”.[lxxxiii] The profound contradiction within the practice of clandestine subversion is the impossibility of engaging in covert activity, while at the same time maintaining contact with the mass movement. The mechanistic view of the professional terrorist regarding the question of how revolution is to be brought about, has the accompanying effect of imputing in the masses the metaphysical belief that revolution is the business of a few militants. In the words of Gorz: “…the tendency to voluntaristic and elitist forms of ‘vanguardism’ which, when organizationally separated from the immediate struggles and aspirations of the masses, always degenerate into dogmatic, bureaucratic political machines or sects”.[lxxxiv]
I hope to have shown how the BR underwent an existential mutation in the course of their struggle, from a tactical urban guerrilla force to a purely terrorist sect. However, we have seen that the intensification of State repression left the militants little choice than to opt for clandestinity, particularly at the time when they were still clinging on the concept of ‘double militancy’. The gradual decline in protest mobilization along with the concomitant erosion of the organization’s popular base can be sited as additional causes. Yet we must stress that the separation of the BR from the collective movements of the working-class was largely the outcome of the option that was forced upon the group to go underground. I think that the notion of ‘inevitability’ underlining most of the self-criticism upon which former terrorists have occasionally embarked, alludes to this standard sequence of events.
Therein enters the Sate in our definition of the terrorist phenomenon. The basic hypothesis of this essay is that terrorist violence is by and large a reflection of the violence with which the Sate reacts when its authority is challenged. Furthermore, I propose that even the liberal State can, and does, put this capacity for organized violence in good use for its own purposes. The rationale behind this idea was previously and unwittingly alluded to, in Laqueur’s statement on the uneven relationship between injustice and terrorism. Sanguinetti describes it thus: “In view of terrorism always presented as absolute evil, evil in-itself and for-itself, all the other evils, fade into the background, and are even to be forgotten; since the fight against terrorism coincides with the common interest, it already is the general good, and the State, which magnanimously conducts it, is good in-itself and for-itself”.[lxxxv] It is this automatic conference of legitimacy upon the State, which I have strived to avoid throughout my analysis of the terrorism of the BR. The Italian State achieved precisely this with Aldo Moro’s death, having demonstrated that its institutions could withhold the assault.
Terrorism is considered an abnormality because it often occurs in environments not normally associated with violence. In other words, it cuts across the demarcation line which separates the political sphere, the Res Publica, from the realm of the ‘apolitical’, the private sphere and in effect captures the essence of Western parliamentary democracy. In the past, as in the case of May 1968 and the Italian ‘Hot Autumn’ of 1969, the sense of separation from the ‘political’, along with the expansion of bureaucratic structures, mobilized the masses into demanding more extensive participation and greater control over their own lives. The inability of these movements to translate their demands into a realizable agenda was what would define them later as merely subversive. Terrorism is an inarticulate expression of rebellion. It expresses legitimate claims but in a way which is both ineffective and morally reprehensible. The same discontent with the present state of affairs is manifested today in the growing tendencies of apathy, abstention from political activity and widespread cynicism with which the majority of the modern citizenry views the political process as a whole. The conditions that might transform an excess of passivity into misdirected militancy, may once more arise and we will then be hardly in a better position to combat terrorism than we were thirty years ago. Apathy and militancy are, after all, two sides of the same coin.

[i] F. Halliday, Revolution and World Politics, p.324 (London; Macmillan, 1999).
[ii] Ibid. p.332.
[iii] Ch. Johnson, Perspectives on Terrorism, in W. Laqueur, The Terrorism Reader, p.276 (London; Wildwood, 1979).
[iv] In passing we may quote Lombroso who defended the right for one to protest on behalf of his fellow man: “This [exploitation] is all the more felt and vigorously proclaimed now where poverty is least in evidence, because it is easiest there to create a reaction. The poor Indians, dying by millions of hunger, have no strength to react, nor can the Lombards who are dying of pellagra”. In C. Lombroso, Gli Anarchisti, p.6 (Turin; Savelli, 1952).
[v] It was only in the latter phases of its struggle, when the organization was in decline, that the BR fell back to using terror as the raison d’etre of the organization. The emphasis on the psychology of terror also prevents us from realizing the way in which terrorism effectively impairs the every-day functioning of the system.
[vi] W. Laqueur, Terrorism – A Balance Sheet, in W. Laqueur, op.cit. p.253.
[vii] R. Gillespie, The Urban Guerrilla in Latin America, in N. O’Sullivan, Terrorism, Ideology and Revolution, p.152 (Colorado; Westview, 1986).
[viii] The process, let it be said, is always one-way. That is, the guerrilla may eventually turn terrorist, but scarcely has there been an inversion of this sequence.
[ix] D. Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism; The Left-Wing Alternative, p.179 (New York; McGraw, 1968).
[x] P. Anderson, Considerations on Western Marxism, p.42 (London; Verso, 1989).
[xi] Halliday, op.cit. p.207.
[xii] Theoretical impoverishment and rigidity was essentially the result of a climate of intellectual totalitarianism within the environment of the communist parties, which reserved the right for the conduct of theoretical analysis, for the organizations’ bureaucratic apex alone. Needless to say that this was done more in coordination with the demands of Soviet foreign policy, than according to requirements emerging from a careful consideration of the indigenous social situation. The PCI was not an exception to this rule and it is for this reason that the best specimens of Western Marxism have been produced in isolation from the ‘Party’ (Luckaks, Gramsci, Benjamin).
[xiii] Due to the theoretical legacy of Gramsci, the PCI managed to a certain extent, to immunize itself from Soviet control. Yet the official canonization of Gramsci’s writings after the latter’s death, amounted to an effective neutralization of his achievements in the field of class-struggle strategy and the Marxist analysis of the State. Not surprisingly we might add, given that Togliatti was the one to have silenced Gramsci’s criticisms of the notorious ‘third period’ of the Comintern.
[xiv] Leon Trotsky had pointed out the reciprocal relationship between the failure of purposeful containment of revolution in Europe and Asia and the piecemeal domestic consolidation of the Soviet bureaucratic power-structure. Stalin’s logic of ‘encirclement’ was an attempt to rationalize this interdependence. In L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.90-1 (London; New Park, 1967).
[xv] D. J. Coyle, Minorities in Revolt, p.116 (Toronto; Associated University Press, 1983).
[xvi] For a detailed description of the heavy industrialization of the US north and the radicalizing effect the latter had on the dislocated contingent of southern blacks, see S. Carmichael, Black Power, pp.146-162 (London; Jonathan Cape, 1968). On developments in France, see D. Cohn-Bendit, op.cit. pp.133-142.
[xvii] Of course, the Tupamaros were subdued in the end. Although they had attained a considerable level of success and popular support, the gradual militarization of the liberal state of Uruguay ultimately was to prove to their detriment. As Regis Debray wrote, in digging the grave of liberal Uruguay the Tupamaros unwillingly dug their own grave. Note also the diffusion of radical Catholic ideas (liberation theology) that took place in Uruguay as well as Italy, which facilitated the moral leap from pacifism to armed struggled for the Catholics who joined the Tupamaros and the BR. In R. Gillespie, op.cit. p.155.
[xviii] F. Halliday, op.cit. pp.177-9.
[xix] “As another heresy from Marxism, the foco theory thus defines class according to life style. From that life, in which political and military engagements become wielded, the future of socialism is born – as individuals, men dedicated to the collective; as a collective, a classless nucleus wrought in combat (hence efficiency) but dedicated to human harmony (hence morality). By fighting the future leaders of socialism become tough, tenacious and human”. J. Gerassi, Theorists and Terrorists, in J. Gerassi, Towards Revolution, p.425 (London; Weidenfeld, 1971).
[xx] In 1977, Francesco Cossiga, who at the time was minister of interior, told parliament that there appeared to be some connection between the BR and the West German Baader-Meinhoff group. Also, there was evidence that BR militants had undergone guerrilla training abroad, namely in a camp near Karlovy Vary in Czechoslovakia. D. J. Coyle, op.cit. p.135.
[xxi] W. Laqueur, Terrorism – a Balance Sheet, in W. Laqueur, op.cit p.251.
[xxii] R. Moss, The Collapse of Democracy, pp.68-74 (London; Temple Smith, 1977).
[xxiii] H. Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, p.58 (Middlesex; Penguin Books, 1973).
[xxiv] P. Furlong, Political Terrorism in Italy, in J. Lodge, Terrorism: a Challenge to the State, p.57 (Oxford; Robertson, 1981).
[xxv] R. Moss, Urban Guerrillas, p.29 (London; Temple Smith, 1972). However, Marcuse has shown that there is a lot more in the language of minority rebels than simple propagandistic mannerism. For an exposition see Marcuse, op.cit. pp.76-81.
[xxvi] Hence, we arrive at such psychoanalytical formulations as the one concocted by Horchem in describing the ‘Fiction of Repression’ (in Laqueur, op.cit. p.248). While psychological violence would rate highly in a Marcusean analysis of contemporary society, Horchem’s title by definition excludes such an exposition as fictional. We are left then with the terrorist’s subconscious as the realm within which to look for the causes of violent rebellion.
[xxvii] In the words of Charles Fogger, “What can a phrase like ‘respect for law and order’, a favorite among ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ alike, mean to a people for whom ‘law and order’ have always amounted to tools for maintaining an oppressive status quo?”. In Ch. Fogger, White Reflections on Black Power, p.15 (Michigan; Erdmans, 1969).
[xxviii] N. O’Sullivan, Terrorism, Ideology and Democracy, in N. O’Sullivan, op.cit. p.4.
[xxix] N. O’Sullivan, op.cit. p.4.
[xxx] “The existing society defines the transcending action on its, society’s, own terms – a self-validating procedure, entirely legitimate, even necessary for this society: one of the most effective rights of the Sovereign is the right to establish enforceable definitions of words”. In H. Marcuse, op.cit. p.76.
[xxxi] W. Laqueur, op.cit. p.264.
[xxxii] D. J. Coyle, op.cit. p.90.
[xxxiii] It is worth noting that the man who is generally recognized as the father-figure of 19th century Italian nationalism, was at the time heading an underground society which was in its day what contemporary observers would describe as a ‘terrorist’ organization. Of course the reference here is to Giuseppe Mazzini and his Giovane Italia (Young Italy) group.
[xxxiv] D. J. Coyle, op.cit. p.114.
[xxxv] Increased worker militancy took on many forms; wildcat strikes, department assemblies, industrial sabotage and absenteeism.
[xxxvi] J. La Palombara, Democracy Italian Style, pp.169-170 (New Haven; Yale University Press, 1987). The rationale behind La Palombara’s thesis can be encapsulated in this simple phrase: ‘Post hoc, ergo propter hoc’ (‘After this fact, therefore because of this fact’).
[xxxvii] Guy Debord, Foreword to the first Italian edition of On Terrorism and the State.
[xxxviii] According to Perry Anderson these preconditions include “a mass Communist Party commanding the allegiance of major sections of the working-class, with a numerous and radical intelligentsia”. In P. Anderson, op.cit. p.28. It is possible to argue that the absence of one or the other of these conditions blocked the emergence of an advanced Marxist culture in other places (i.e. Britain, Spain).
[xxxix] F. Halliday, op.cit. pp.177-9.
[xl] F. Claudin, Eurocommunism and Socialism, p.19 (London; NLB, 1978).
[xli] Le Monde, 14/04/1976.
[xlii] PCI involvement in the July 1948 upheavals resulted in the calling off of the General Strike, thereby averting the possibility of a revolution. Similarly, it is true that the Communists attempted to ‘ride the tiger’ during the 1969 student and workers’ unrest but, as Claudin has stressed, they did so not with a view for providing the leadership which was required for the protest movement to be taken to its logical extreme, that is a fully-fledged, self-conscious popular uprising. Their strategy sought to moderate the movement’s dynamic “more readily from within”. In F. Claudin, op.cit p.95.
[xliii] A. Gorz, Socialism and Revolution, p.31 (New York; Anchor Books, 1973).
[xliv] This phrase appears as a chapter title in Sanguinetti’s, On Terrorism and the State (London; MCML XXXII, 1982).
[xlv] P. Furlong, op.cit p.67.
[xlvi] G. Sanguinetti, op.cit p.79.
[xlvii] Sidney Tarrow writes that immediately after the massacre in Piazza Fontana, “the police quickly arrested twenty-seven leftists – mostly anarchists – of whom one, Giuseppe Pinelli, was suspected of having been in the vicinity of the bank on the morning in question. Pinelli was hauled off to the questura (police main office) for questioning. There, after ‘his alibi is broken’, and in the presence of three police officials, the police announced that he jumped from a fourth floor window into the courtyard below. After he died in hospital an hour later, the police – with amazing alacrity – publicly declared him guilty of taking part in the bombing of the Banca dell’Agricoltura. See S. Tarrow, Violence and Institutionalization After the Italian Protest Cycle, in R. Catanzaro, The Red Brigades and Left-Wing Terrorism, pp.44-5 (London; Pinter Publishers, 1991).
[xlviii] In a somewhat humorous fashion, Sanguinetti refers to the talent of the Italian bourgeoisie for devising schemes that would keep the PCI from coming to power. He writes, “the Italian bourgeoisie replaces in invention what it lacks in capacity”. In G. Sanguinetti, op.cit p.74. On my part, I can only quote the Russian poet Lermontoff in saying that, “all this would be very ridiculous, if it were not too sad”.
[xlix] P. Furlong, op.cit p.68.
[l] “…for the generation that entered politics after 1968, violence was perceived as a form of politics and politics as a form of warfare, precisely because of the presence of the extreme right on the streets”. In S. Tarrow, op.cit pp.55-6.
[li] Interview with L. Manconi. R. Catanzaro, Subjective Experience and Objective Reality, in R. Catanzaro, op.cit p.179.
[lii] R. Moss, op.cit p.31.
[liii] Albeit as Sidney Tarrow has suggested, “it [the Manifesto group] seemed destined for a return to electoral politics even when its strategic line rejected it”. In S. Tarrow, op.cit, p.53.
[liv] P. Anderson, op.cit, p.41.
[lv] Colletivo Politico Metropolitano (1970), p.11.
[lvi] A. Negri, Il Dominio e Il Sabotaggio, p.14 (Milan; Feltrinelli, 1978).
[lvii] LC militants were responsible for the formation of the so-called servizi d’ordine, namely defense squads of extra-parliamentary organizations whose role was to steward and protect left-wing demonstrations, speakers and so on. Catanzaro has reflected on how the “loss of control over these groups by political organizations as the latter disintegrated, leaving only the military wing standing”, created the preconditions for the subsequent onslaught of terrorist violence. In R. Catanzaro, op.cit, p.181.
[lviii] R. Moss, op.cit, p.36.
[lix] Lavoro Politico (1967), quoted in D. J. Coyle, op.cit, p.115.
[lx] ‘Comrades who are in error’; this was the way in which the revolutionary groups on the extreme left that had not chosen clandestinely referred to the brigatistas.
[lxi] D. J. Coyle, op.cit p.119.
[lxii] A. Negri, op.cit p.14.
[lxiii] E. Henry, Stop Terrorism! p.70 (Moscow; Novosti Press, 1983).
[lxiv] P. Furlong, op.cit p.59.
[lxv] G. C. Caselli & D. Della Porta, The History of the Red Brigades, in R. Catanzaro, op.cit p.82.
[lxvi] This capacity for tactical innovation and ingenuity in replenishing its sources of popular support demonstrated by the BR was in stark contrast with the historical record of such New Left urban guerrilla groups as the American SDS – Students for a Democratic Society. This was an anarchist group manned by middle-class, white radicals that grew out of the militant student movement of the 1960s. they fervently pursued a strategic alliance with Black Power groups and especially with Huey Newton’s ‘Black Panthers’. When they failed in establishing any meaningful contact with the latter, their unreliability as a revolutionary force gradually became apparent. They degenerated into a hippie brotherhood intoxicated by the practice of violence for the sake of violence alone. Soon afterwards, and after they had brought about a decisive split within the student movement, their activity subsided and was eventually willfully terminated.
[lxvii] G. Bocca, Il Terrorismo Italiano, p.7-21 (Milan; Rizzoli, 1979).
[lxviii] The Catholic party had remained in power for some thirty odd years. During that time not once were the communists admitted in a government coalition or had a ministry assigned to them. The implication is clear that one can hardly speak of a genuine democratic regime when the dominance and hegemony of one political party remains uninterrupted for so long, not due to an overwhelming degree of popular support but largely because of shadowy political machinations. I do not think that a comparison to Mexico, which just recently came out of a forty-year period of one party rule, is at all inappropriate here.
[lxix] One of the documents written by the ‘dissociated’ terrorist states: “One no longer speaks, as before, of civil war as an historical phase of the class struggle to be promoted [by means of] guerrilla warfare, one speaks of ‘war’ as a dimension until now neglected by reality the only complete expression of conscience and the political struggle of the proletariat to the present level of development of capital, [the] expression of a new ‘absolute enmity between the classes”. In Caselli & Della Porta, op.cit p.103.
[lxx] Brigate Rosse (1971).
[lxxi] Thus BR targets were primarily the managers most in contact with the working-class base and right-wing trade unions. The first kidnap victim was the director of Sit Siemens, Macchiarini who was accused of ‘particular anti-worker rigidity’ in factory negotiations.
[lxxii] L. Manconi, op.cit p.123.
[lxxiii] In this connection, we should add that the acquisition of power is a persistent theme in the practical political agendas of minority opposition groups. In fact it is the extent to which a group succeeds in presenting itself as an alternative source of authority that might be of use in distinguishing urban guerrillas from plain terrorists. To that effect we may quote Eldridge Cleaver in his description of the Black Panther Party: “Organized guns and force is what Huey [Newton] used to call the police, and he referred to the BPP as the organized guns and force of the black community”. In E. Cleaver, Soul on Fire p.118 (Texas; Word Books, 1979).
[lxxiv] Brigate Rosse (1974).
[lxxv] The new political-military credentials of the BR, as opposed to the old populist orientation of their actions, were submitted with the kidnapping of the prosecutor general in Genoa, Mario Sossi, Sossi faced a ‘proletarian trial’ during which the disclosures, whether spontaneous or induced, seemed to throw strong doubts upon the nominal independence of the Italian judiciary and to include unsavory innuendos about individuals in the highest echelons of the governmental hierarchy.
[lxxvi] Le Monde, 04 – 02 – 1979.
[lxxvii] R. Gillespie, op.cit p.169.
[lxxviii] Caselli & Della Porta, op.cit p.91.
[lxxix] We should pause for a moment and take note of the relationship between the abandonment of the stark, anti-communist line on the part of the DC and the parallel advent of an era of détente between the superpowers in the international plane. For further discussion see Furlong, op.cit pp.76-8.
[lxxx] P. Furlong, op.cit p.77.
[lxxxi] Maybe it was to this fact that Moro alluded in a letter that he wrote while in captivity: “I will not be the one to pay the price for the past blunders of the entire political class”. And elsewhere, “This bloodbath will benefit neither Chakanini [Secretary General of the DC], nor Andreotti, neither the Christian Democrats, nor the country”. In A. Strigas, Terrorism p.254 (Athens; Nea Thesis, 1998).
[lxxxii] P. Wilkinson, Pathology and Theory, in W. Laqueur, op.cit p.244.
[lxxxiii] G. Sanguinetti, op.cit p.100.
[lxxxiv] A. Groz, Socialism and Revolution p.31 (New York; Anchor Books, 1973).
[lxxxv] G. Sanguinetti, op.cit pp.58-9.

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