Part 1: Origins of the crisis of 1968-9

In 1968-9 Italy experienced an ‘Organic crisis’, in which there was a massive withdrawal of support for the structures of representation, and an abrupt increase in political demands. The crisis of 1968-9 arose within specific institutional contexts, especially in the universities and schools, and in the factories, as will be shown in subsequent chapters; but to understand its dimensions it is necessary to look at its historical origins. This is not to say that the crisis was an inevitable outcome of Italian historical development; rather, the aim is to highlight some of the features, especially of the postwar period, which help explain the range of probings and testing of the ‘social contract’.

This background to the main study of the social movements will be divided into three chapters. The first will look at the relationship of the subordinate classes of Italian society to the state, taking a cue from some of Gramsci’s writings on the question. The second will deal with the organizations of civil society; it will focus in particular on relations between employers and workers, and between the working class and its representative bodies (the unions and left-wing parties). The third chapter will concentrate on the perceptions of an injustice and the formulation of ‘standards of condemnation’ which anticipated and prepared the mass social awakening and mobilization at the end of the 1960s.

This outline of the period before the eruption of the social movements is necessarily selective and partial; it attempts to delineate developments leading up to the crisis, not to provide a historical account of the postwar period.

Themes are introduced in these chapters from a historical perspective which are taken up and developed in parts II and III. The crisis of reformism is discussed in detail in chapter 4, in terms of the educational policies of the Centre-Left government which provoked a storm of protest from students. Distrust of the State is explored in chapter 11 with particular relation to the conflicting conceptions of law and order thrown up by the student and workers’ movement. The ‘moral outrage’ expressed in the slogans of workers’ demonstrations is connected up in chapter 16 to historical grievances. The importance of the historical legacy will be seen in how the social actors perceived injustices and how the social movements drew on the past to make sense of and ennoble their struggles.

01. A distrusted state

Recurrent questions in Italian historiography and political discussion have included: Why is the Italian nation-state so lacking in social and political cohesion? And what has led to the incapacity of the ruling bloc to modernize Italy’s institutions? Some writers have traced the roots of the problem back to the failure of the attempt to found an absolutist state in Italy in the late Middle Ages, but the usual point of departure for analyses is the Risorgimento, the movement of national unification in the mid nineteenth century. The key theses setting the agenda for debate were set out in Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks1 For Gramsci, the model bourgeois revolution the French Revolution was the yardstick for assessing the Risorgimento, which he called a ‘failed revolution’ (rivoluzione mancata). According to Gramsci, the failure of the Italian bourgeoisie to form a national-popular alliance, involving the subordinate classes in the struggle against the backward landowners, meant that the unification remained formal rather than real. The division between north and south, corresponding to the compromise between northern capital and the southern latifondisti, and the exclusion of the great mass of the population from participation in the political life of the new state, meant that a conservative settlement was eached at the expense of economic and social progress. For Gramsci only the Italian proletariat, in alliance with poor peasants, could make a nation out of Italy. Whether Gramsci’s analyses withstand criticism by historians today is a matter for debate, but the liveliness of the discussion since the mid sixties suggests that they are useful in giving pointers to understanding the contemporary crisis of the Italian state.

One of Gramsci’s concerns, the externality of the popular classes to the formation and subsequent history of the Italian state, is of particular interest. The southern peasantry exemplified this hostility or indifference to nationhood. It was tied by intense local and family loyalties, and shared cultures and dialects having little affinity with a national culture. This peasantry did not identify with Italy as a state, and saw its utopias in the Americas rather than in the peninsula. But the working class of the north, despite its relative privileges, also found itself in conflict with a repressive state 2 The experience of universal suffrage was an interlude between periods of government exclusively by and for social elites. There were only two free general elections before the Fascists took power in 1922. In other words, the Italian working class before 1945 did not develop a strong sense of citizenship through participation in political parties, elections, voting and celebrations of formal freedoms and equalities.

The other major processes whereby the working class in Western Europe was ‘nationalized’ education and war affected Italian workers less than those of other countries. Education had little impact on the predominant use of dialect, and acted more effectively as a channel for middle-class social mobility than as a means of promoting mass civic consciousness. Wars mobilized sections of the population in a way only paralleled by spurts of industrialization, and aggravated class tensions, creating horizontal solidarities that threatened the unity of the state. The debacle of late-nineteenth-century Italian imperialist expeditions at Adowa, the mutinies and non-collaboration during the 1914-18 war, and the disastrous Fascist military campaigns, all proved counter-productive for the ruling bloc. They also fuelled opposition to nationalism in the form of anti-militarism, anti-statism and internationalism.

The persistence of anarcho-syndicalist tendencies within the working class and the wide-spread identification of the state with all society’s evils testify to the traditions of popular anti-statism. In the post-1945 period the relationship between the working class and the state changed. The establishment of a democratic republic changed the rules of political conflict, and the major parties and unions of the working class made themselves the upholders and interpreters of parliamentary democracy. The principal protagonist of the Resistance, the Communist Party, took a leading part in ‘re·educating’ the working class into this role. Togliatti’s reading of Gramsci (whose Prison Notebooks were published between 1948 and 1951) centred on the idea that the working class had the task of forging a national solidarity that the weak bourgeoisie was incapable of doing. It had to represent the ‘national-popular’ and lay the foundations of social and economic reconstruction, as the transitional stage to the construction of a future socialist society. In a speech of June 1945, Togliatti claimed that:

the democratic revolution in our country has never been completed or seriously developed .... In demanding the Constituent Assembly, we find ourselves in the company of the best men of our Risorgimento - in the company of Carlo Cattaneo, Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, and we are proud of it.3

But the Communist Party rank-and-file had to be taught that the new parliamentary state was ‘theirs’ and that they had to act responsibly - a task that was not always easy. A report at the 6th Congress stated:

The persistence of sectarian positions is seen in the tendency to disrupt other political meetings singing songs with words in bad taste . .. leaving work early to attend meetings, the use of banners without the tricoleur 4

For many, the leadership was only saying these things so that it could fool the other parties, which, it seemed, were happy to work with the Communists for as long as it suited them.

The landslide election victory of 1948 for the Christian Democrat Party finalized the expulsion of the Left parties from government. At this crucial conjuncture democracy as an idea was linked to the Western ‘camp’ and to the defence of Catholicism. Future governments worked to impose their definitions of what constituted ‘democratic’ and 'anti-democratic' forces; the Communist Party was treated as alien, while the CGIL was treated as its instrument in the workplace; meanwhile, the ‘apolitical’ and ‘free’ trade unions were encouraged. Systematic repression and discrimination and propaganda campaigns were used by governments and by managements in the factories to undermine working-class representative structures.

The close cooperation between the state and the employers’ federation (Confindustria), and the exclusion of the working-class parties from government were the two axes on which Italian ‘democracy’ revolved in the period 1948-60.5 Although the basic democratic freedoms were observed, there were some continuities with the Fascist state that help explain the ways in which those freedoms were circumscribed and curtailed. In this perspective, it is the period of postwar collaboration and reconstruction which appears as an aberration. The personnel of the state apparatuses had been mostly employed by the previous Fascist regime, and the Republic inherited laws that were the very antithesis of the constitution. The Rocco Penal Code, for example, includes among its list of 'crimes': the membership of anti-national and subversive associations, the incitement of ‘cIass hatred’ and the defamation of state institutions. 6 Although there were few laws controlling labour disputes, industrial conflict was heavily policed through instructions contained in the reports of the procurators-general, and in the circulars, letters and telegrams sent to them and to the prefects by the ministries of justice and of the interior. During Scelba’s period as minister of the interior these were directed almost exclusively against forms of picketing and ‘political’ strikes.7 From 1948 to 1954 an estimated 75 were killed and 5,104 were wounded as a result of police action directed against forms of protest.8

If the politicized and organized sections of the working class were the targets of repression, governmental policies encouraged private initiatives detrimental to all wage earners. Laissez-faire economic policy subordinated all state intervention to the immediate needs of private capital. Whilst in other Western European countries reconstruction was carried out with the objective of ensuring full employment and full utilization of capital resources, in Italy a policy of deflation and the containment of demandthrough a regime of low wages and high unemployment was actively pursued by Einaudi and his successors. State expenditure went towards the construction of motorways that suited the needs of Fiat rather than towards the creation of a welfare state. 9

The beneficiaries of this economic policy were the big companies and sections of the middle classes. Internal consumer expenditure rose for the small minority of the population that could afford to buy the goods (televisions, cars, fridges, and so on) that symbolized the reign of plenty. In 1960 only 11 per cent of the population owned a fridge. Otherwise production was oriented to the world market. The so-called ‘economic miracle’ was attained on the basis of increases in productivity much greater than increases in wages. In addition, it entailed the mass migration of labour from the south to the northern cities, and to northem Europe. 10 The ‘miracle’ aggravated social tensions, making the existing political arrangements untenable.

In 1953 the Christian Democrat government tried to introduce a law (the so-called ‘swindle law’) that would ensure the permanent majority which it had failed to win in the elections, but the attempt failed in the face of a mass national campaign of opposition. From 1953 to 1963 the Christian Democrats maintained power through coalition governments in which they were always the dominant partner holding the key ministries. In 1960 this politics, based on the exclusion of the Left parties, was put into crisis. The possibility of further alliances with parties to the Right was blocked by mass mobilization against Tambroni’s attempt to form a govemment with the neo-fascist MSI, and a wave of strikes showed the strength of the industrial working class, and the need to win its goodwill.

The nature of these mobilizations gives some indication of the evolution of the working class's relationship to the state. The response to the calls by the parties in 1953 and 1960 shows that there was a strong desire to defend democratic institutions from manipulation and authori- ‘ tarianism. However, the actions were largely defensive. They were a response to a continuous war of attrition waged against workers’ organizations. Their point of reference was the Liberation and Reconstruction period, of which the celebration of 25 April and the battle to apply the spirit of the Constitution were important aspects. By way of contrast, the factory mobilizations of 1960-63 were offensive actions. Their chief objective was wage increases, but the mass street demonstrations signalled a revolt against conditions inside and outside the factory.

The Socialist Party response to the working-class mobilization was to use it as a bargaining counter with the Christian Democrats. It claimed to have a programme of radical reforms and economic planning which I would make capitalist development ‘rational’ and beneficial to the working class as a whole. However, the only reforms which the Socialists succeeded in carrying out as promised were in education and in the nationalization of the electricity industry. The 1969 Forecasting and Planning Report revealed that achievement of objectives for 1966-8 was as low as 11 per cent for urban transport, 16 per cent for hospital building , and 22 per cent for school building. 11 This failure was doubly serious because of the inadequacy of state provision of services and their farming out to private agencies. The movement of two million Italians from south to north between 1960 and 1970 created a demand for housing, services, education and basic infrastructures that a laissez-faire government policy had not been able to cope with.

The Centre-Left government created hopes of changes that would bring Italian living standards into line with northern European countries. However, its actions were heavily circumscribed. For the Christian Democrats there was no question of allowing the destruction of the state clientelism that provided one of its power bases (sottogoverno), and for them the inclusion of the Socialists had more to do with isolating the Communists and securing an incomes policy than with a strategy of structural change based on a high wage economy. 12 The imposition of a deflationary policy in 1964 had the political aim of undercutting wage demands by increasing unemployment. This measure effectively asserted ‘ the continuity of a low wage regime, and prevented further reforms on the pretext that reform had to wait for more prosperous times.13

The Centre-Left experiment contained elements of a longer term strategy for bringing the working class into a collaborative relationship with the state, but there was the minimum of institutionalization. Tripartite talks between unions, private industry and the government were rarely carried out, and then outside the planning framework.14 Although the Communist Party cooperated with legislation in parliament, it and the CGIL resolutely opposed an official incomes policy spoke instead of the need for more structural reforms, but little working-class mobilization took place around the issue of reforms.15

However, the idea of reform spread, and citizenship came to be considered not just in terms of formal, legal and political rights, but in terms of material well-being and rights to housing, education, health facilities and other services. The 1963 general strike over housing represented an important step in this direction.16 What was in question during the late 1960s was how changes could be brought about; whether a central government dominated by the Christian Democrats, or indeed any government, had the will and capacity to reform. If it did, how could sufficient pressure be brought to bear on it to do so, and, if it did not, what alternative strategies were open to the working class.

The rigidity of the political structures and their acknowledged inability to reform themselves fed popular distrust and suspicion of politicians and the political system. Power remained firmly in the hands of the Christian Democrats, who successfully prevented an alternation of parties in govern- ment. The resulting operation of the Italian parliamentary system has been compared to that of Namier’s eighteenth-century English parliament in which there were ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, and politics consisted of ‘place-seeking’ and cynical manoeuvring. Percy Allum writes:

the lack of an electoral alternative has led all parties to viewing their role as the occupation of as many posts as possible in the state institutions not for the purposes of transforming society but of accruing patronage... this operation has reduced them to being the defenders of sectional interests. 17

For a short time, it seemed that the Socialists would be different, but the gap between their promises and their achievements widened the longer they stayed in the office. Giuseppe Tamburrano, who was closely involved with the Centre-Left experiment, attributed its demise in the final analysis to the Socialist Party’s failure to mobilize support within the country for its reform proposals. Instead of doing this, it lost itself in a maze of bureaucracy. Its experience seemed to prove the old adage that power corrupts, rather than its own thesis that real changes could only be brought about by being the ‘control-room’ (stanza dei bottoni). Moreover, this failure of the Socialist Party’s reform programme discredited ‘reformism’, and it strengthened the hand of those who advocated extra parliamentary action and revolutionary politics.

  • 1. For an excellent summary of Gramsci‘s writings on the subject and assessments of them, see John Davis, ed., Gramsci and the Passive Revolution, London, 1979. Diana Pinto has written of the way Italy, which in the 1960s was held up as a model of ‘modernization’, quickly became a focus of attention because of its crises: ‘Seen as the "sick man" of Europe, Italy has been studied recently as a special case among Westerndemocracies and advanced industrial nations. Indeed its very claim to membership in ‘ the ‘club‘ has been at times reconsidered by Italians and non-Italians alike when Italy was doing well she could be pointed out as an example of Westem strength and success; when she was doing badly, the specificity of her 'case' had to be stressed so as not to bring in question the entire Western frame of reference.' D. Pinto, ed., Contemporary Italian Sociology, Cambridge 1981, pp. 1-2.
  • 2. 'Italian workers in general, like the hand loom weavers of Biella had their political sensibilities sharpened by always seeing beside the factory-owner . . . the police representative, the 'carabinieri', and behind them the procurator to the king . . . the prison . . . that is, state violence'; Vittorio Foa, ‘Sindacati e lotte sociali‘, in Storia d’Italia, vol. 5, 2, Turin 1976, p. 1788
  • 3. Paul Ginsborg, ‘Gramsci and the Era of Bourgeois Revolution’, in Gramsci and the Passive Revolution, p. 43. For an outline of the development of Communist Party strategy in this period, see D. Blackmer and S. Tarrow, Communism in Italy and France, Princeton 1975.
  • 4. Giorgio Galli, Storia del PCI, Milan 1977, p. 298.
  • 5. G. Pasquino, ‘Capital and Labour in Italy’, Government and Opposition, 3, Summer ’ 1976.
  • 6. Percy Allum, Italy - Republic Without Government, London 1973, p. 207. See also C. Pavone ‘SuIIa continuita dello Stato (1943-45)’, Rivista di Storia Contemporanea, 1974.
  • 7. Umberto Romagnoli and L. Mariucci, ‘Ordinamento sindacale e sistema economico nella Costituzione’, in U. Romagnoli and L. Mariucci, lo sciopero dalla Costituzione all‘autodisciplina, Bologna 1975.
  • 8. D. Blackmer, ‘Postwar Italian Communism’, in D. Blackmer and S. Tarrow, Communism in Italy and France, p. 47.
  • 9. M. De Cecco, ‘Economic Policy, 1945-51’, in Stuart Woolf, ed., The Rebirth of Modern Italy, London 1971.
  • 10. See A. Graziani, L’Economia Italiana l945-70, Bologna 1972, especially the introduction; also M. D’Antonio, Sviluppo e crisi del capitalismo italiano, 1951-72, Bari 1973.
  • 11. 11. Gianfranco Pasquino and Umberto Pecchini, ‘ltaly’, in J. Hayward and M. Watson, eds., Planning and Public Policy, Cambridge 1975, p. 138.
  • 12. P, Farneti, ‘Partiti e sistema di potere’, in Castronovo, ed., Italia Contemporanea, Turin 1976, pp. 72-3, p. 81.
  • 13. See A. Graziani, ‘Aspetti strutturali dell’economia italiana nell’ultimo decennio’ in A, Graziani, ed., Crisi e Ristrutterazione nell’Economia Italiana, Turin 1975.
  • 14. 14. I.F. Mariani, ‘Incomes Policy and Employment Policies in Italian Economic Planning’, in Planning and Public Policy.
  • 15. Giuseppe Tamburrano, Storia e cronaca del centro sinistra, Milan 1971, p. 30; Farneti, ‘Partiti e sistema di potere‘, pp. 82-3.
  • 16. P. Ceri, ‘L’autonomia operaia fra organizzazione del lavoro e sistema politico’, Quaderni di Sociologia, 1, 1977, pp. 28-63.
  • 17. Republic Without Government, p. 92

02. Civil society and its discontents

The brevity and fragility of the experience of parliamentary democracy in Italy before 1945 had severe consequences for the nature and development of civil society. The parties, unions and other organizations of the working class had a longer struggle to establish their rights to exist and operate freely than in other capitalist countries. It was not until after the Milan massacre of 1898 that the ruling bloc recognized the need for a strategy designed to limit class conflict through the legitimation of some of its forms. Giolitti had to teach sections of capitalists that it was in their interests that the state did not involve itself in labour disputes. He personally tried to strengthen relations with the reformist wing of the Socialist Party and the trade unions. However, the primary role of the Socialist Party in promoting unionism, the stress given to general class representation in the context of uneven, regionalized industrialization and of a working class in the early stages of its making, and the continued resurgence of insurrectionary syndicalism - all these factors politicized industrial relations in country and town. In these circumstances, the formal distinctions between the political and economic roles of party and union, which characterized a reformist politics found a difficult terrain in which to grow. Revolutionary ideas flourished,

The ‘Red Years’, 1919-20 were characterized by the confusion of the roles of union and party, and by the rise of the new factory councils that claimed to combine their functions. It was a remarkable experiment in workers’ control which remained a much discussed experience, especially in the light of Gramsci’s writings. Its defeat, however, opened the way to a wholesale destruction of parties and unions, rather than to a redefinition of their roles within the terms of a parliamentary democracy. The fascist regime replaced them by state-controlled surrogates. The objective of the ruling bloc had become the very abolition of civil society as a sphere of independent activity on the part of the subordinate classes. Even leisure, sporting and extra work pursuits that had previously been carried on through the political parties were subjected to state organization and supervision. Within the workplace a new ideology of labour was constructed by the employers.

The success of the fascist regime in actually creating its own culture, and in actively intervening in reshaping everyday customs and practices was in many ways limited. However, its destruction not only of organizational structures of opposition, but of a popular memory on the part of the young and of traditions and skills of organization, had lasting effects. Through the anti-fascist struggle and the period of reconstruction, the working class had to recreate its own organizations, and to rebuild the fabric of civil society itself.

The framework for this activity was established by the winning of political freedoms and civil rights, but the power of the working class lay in its extensive network of local organizations. In particular, the political parties played the leading role. The Communist Party in Milan organized in every quarter of the city and extended its control through recreational centres, cooperatives and organizations like Unione delle Donne Italiane (Union of Italian Women, UDI). Certain working-class areas in Milan like Sesto San Giovanni (nicknamed ‘Stalingrad’) and Rogoredo became Left strongholds. The PCI implanted its cells in the factories, in Milan in 1945 if it had 360, and by 1947 these had tripled in number. It has been estimated that by 1948, 80 to 90 per cent of Milanese engineering workers were in the CGIL.

As has been noted, working-class organizations developed a defensive rather than offensive strategy in the Reconstruction period. Nevertheless, this imposed limits on managements’ ‘right to manage’ in the factories; workers blocked redundancies, imposed consultation and, in the early stages, purged fascist personnel. The concerted political offensive against the Left, that resulted in the 1948 election landslide, was followed by a longer term and more difficult war against working-class organization in civil society. The political victory had immediate pay-offs for the landlords and property owners, who, with police protection stepped up the rate of evictions, cleared squats and affirmed the rights of property. In the factories the opposition was more tenacious.

The years from 1950 to 1959 were characterized by a long-term decline in working class organization and resistance in the face of the employers’ attacks. In January 1955 Dott, Borletti, vice-president of the Confindustria, the national employers’ organization, spoke of their objectives; he said:

We need to bring order back into the factories by re-establishing those forms of discipline without which it is impossible to work; we must eliminate all those deviations and political interferences that the war, the postwar period and revolutionary illusions have introduced into company life.

The first and crucial step was the imposition of mass redundancies. This enabled employers to sack leading militants and to threaten workers as a whole with the prospect of losing their jobs. High unemployment throughout the fifties put pressure on the employed to conform to the orders of management. Those militants who survived found themselves continually under surveillance, moved from one section of the factory to another, and increasingly deprived of rights to represent or be represented in an effective as well as formal sense.

The dismantling of the workers’ representative structures allowed management the freer use of labour within the productive process, and employers increased absolute exploitation by introducing longer and more flexible hours. Managements also brought in new machinery and corresponding hierarchical regimes of control to increase the rate of relative exploitation. The weakening of the nucleus of politicized skilled workers meant that resistance to Taylorization had been undermined. In turn, the changes in the productive process lessened the need for those workers through de-skilling, and opened the doors to the unskilled unemployed. Martinoli, a director of Pirelli, put the case for technological change at a conference on workers’ conditions in industry held in Milan in 1954:

it provides the optimal conditions for the achievement of higher levels of employment because a number of workers look favourably and almost with a sense of liberation on monotonous work; this work does not require responsibility, a spirit of initiative and the obligation to make decisions.

The system of industrial relations created in the 1950s was paternalistic. It heavily circumscribed workers’ freedoms, and punished behaviour which threatened its authority. Independent and active unionism was not recognized. The PCI was excluded from participation in parliamentary government and the CGIL from participation in negotiations within the factory. Union officials did not have permission to enter most Milanese factories between 1948 and 1968. The rights to freedoms of speech and organization sanctioned by the Constitution could not be exercised in the factory. Instead, discrimination and sackings and the careful screening of new employees prevailed.

But paternalism also had its philanthropic aspects. It combined older ideologies of ‘family’ cultivated by earlier generations of entrepreneurs with modern theories of human relations. Companies needed not only to suppress class ideologies but to rearticulate class relations as relations of non-antagonistic reciprocity between employer and employee; the words 'operaio' and 'classe operaia' had to be substituted by 'lavoratore'; a collective identity had to be replaced by individualism. To this purpose companies increased differentials between groups of workers and the variable proportion of the wage linked to piece-rates. The power of foremen to grant personal favours in the shape of job allocation and promotion was increased.

This incentivization of self-interest had a gloss of neo-capitalist consumerism in the bigger, impersonal firms like Pirelli where the management aspired to American Taylorist models in which autonomies and controls in the workplace were exchanged for higher wages. The vogue for human relations spread, but with the emphasis on maximizing productivity through time and motion studies rather than through strategies of job enrichment. Moreover, the tendency was to hold wages down as far as possible, especially among the smaller companies. Older forms of Catholic paternalism held sway especially in the family companies that were still intact in the 1950s. Giovanni Falk, for example, who inherited the Milanese steel dynasty, had a vision of his company as a ‘little country with its enlightened governors and faithful subjects, its glorious history and values to be handed down from generation to generation’. Falk, in his eyes, was the symbol of work and harmony, a solid pyramid that threw out a large and protective shadow. Companies provided nursery schools (usually run by a religious order), holiday homes a for children, medical services and child allowances. The provision of services was especially designed for women workers, to enable them to work, but also to bind them into the company’s family by appealing to them as wives and mothers. The hold of the company ethos, however, was strongest among the white-collar workers, who tended to think of themselves as middle class, and who enjoyed monthly salaries with special secret merit awards for the diligent.

The paternalist strategy aimed to abolish social contradictions. In fact its inflexibility and authoritarianism invested those differences of interest at an economic level with the very questions of power and politics that it aimed to eliminate. Even the big companies did not have the economic resources to act as little states, and gave priority to profit-making. The attempt to cultivate the ‘free’ trade unions, the predominantly Catholic CISL and the Social Democrat and Republican UIL, had some success especially among white-collar workers, but managements preferred to establish clientelistic relations with them rather than to encourage collective bargaining. They therefore built up memberships as a result of preferential treatment, bribery and discriminatory recruitment policies. Whilst this divided and weakened workers’ overall organization in the short term, it did not help create a viable alternative to the left-wing CGIL. Neither did the backstairs bargaining provide an adequate mechanism for dealing with widespread shop-floor discontent. Thus, when conflict occurred in circumstances more favourable to workers, it involved fundamental issues concerning rights and it was infused with political significance.

Statistics on industrial conflict, membership and elections to the internal commissions indicate the extent to which the employers’ offensive did paralyse and dismember the union organization built up before 1948. Strikes caused the loss of 64 million hours a year in 1948-9 and an average 22 million for 1950-58. Industrial conflict in Milanese industry was sustained for a longer period, and the figures for union membership are less disastrous than for some cities. Nonetheless, the percentage of the unionized out of the total employed in the engineering sector fell from 61 per cent in 1951 to 23.7 per cent in 1958. A central factor in eroding unionization was the increase in the number and percentage of unskilled and semi-skilled workers being taken on, especially women and youth. The nucleus of the unionized was based on the skilled section of the workforce who had been the leading protagonists in the antifascist movement. Repression reinforced division between the skilled and unskilled, whilst the growing white-collar section of the workforce remained largely untouched by unionism.

The unions’ response to the employers’ attacks was heavily conditioned by the unfavourable conditions in which they operated during the 1950s. In the CGIL, memories of that period evoke pictures of steadfast heroism. The union activists paid dearly for their beliefs, and it was the strength of their convictions that drove them on. Not surprisingly, therefore, it was party members who made up the backbone of the union organization. A young woman organizer who worked at the Borletti factory from the end of the decade remembers:

Almost all the activists were in the Communist Party. Firstly, they trained in Party schools and then they took their battle into the union ... many were regularly sacked ... it was really a way of selecting militants; the more the bosses hit them, the more they became true political militants

However, the strengths of the inner core of the union did not compensate for its relative isolation from the majority of workers nor for serious inadequacies of analysis and policy.

Some of the deficiencies can be attributed to the very influence of the parties: party political issues such as the Korean War and general programmes for economic renewal did not connect up with bread-and-butter questions: ideological divisions got in the way of organizing around common interests; union activities were constantly liable to outside party pressures. But these have to be related to the fact that most activists were skilled male workers who had participated in the Resistance, whilst the majority of newly recruited workers were younger, unskilled and unpoliticized. These divisions along the lines of age, gender and union experience were aggravated by employer policies of divide-and-rule, and by the introduction of new technologies, which greatly changed labour processes, and therefore relations between sections or workers. The failure by the CGIL to develop analyses and appropriate strategies meant that it was marginalized from the everyday problems and experiences of the workplace. The cultural backwardness (a looking-back to older models of class unionism and Marxist orthodoxies) furnished mobilizing ideals, but weakened the CGIL's capacity to meet the needs of a new generation of workers.

The CISL, by contrast, took the American unions as its model, and tried to break with the Italian tradition of left-wing trade unionism in the name of modernity. It represented its members only, and concentrated on productivity bargaining at local levels. In practice, the CISL was anti-Communist. It was tied to the Christian Democrat Party and under the influence of the Catholic Church. Moreover, its predominantly white-collar membership within industry and the service sector made it even more prone to management pressures. The CISL's negotiation of agreements for its members that excluded the CGIL, its dependence on discriminatory recruitment for its membership and its refusal, as far as possible, to go on strike made it a de facto form of company unionism in the 1950s.

Between 1960 and 1963 this system of industrial relations based on paternalism was challenged from below. The defeat of the Tambroni government due to mass mobilizations, gave workers a sense of power. The decline of unemployment and the economic upturn put workers in a position to bargain with employers. The economic transformation of the 'miracle' years increased the umbers of workers and their relative importance as a group in society in the northern triangle. At the same time, huge increases in investment, productivity and profits had been achieved without reform of a low wage regime guaranteed by authoritarianism within the factory. Rebellion in the factories starting with the militancy of the young workers in the electrical engineering sector in Milan in 1960, expressed a demand for a share in the newly created wealth. They called for wage increases and succeeded in winning considerable concessions. In the struggles the union succeeded in using wage demands as a means of unifying different sections of workers. Differentials were reduced, the principle of wage parity for women over eighteen was established, and a two-hour reduction of the working week was won. On the shop-floor, engineering workers experimented with short, sharp strikes, backed by the CGIL, in addition to the use of national general strikes and demonstrations, which were the traditional form of mobilization. The latter were on a scale that had not been seen on the streets of the big cities since 1948. Students too marched alongside workers.

The shift in the balance of class forces in Italy was reflected in the increased percentage of the Gross National Income accruing to the working class. However, it was a temporary advance that was reversed from late1963 to 1967. Deflationary policies increased unemployment and employers clamped down on wage increases. The gains were whittled away through inflation and once more productivity increases exceeded those of wages. The government did not succeed in establishing an incomes policy, and instead provided the conditions for the strengthening of management’s hand. The unions were too weak to mobilize effective resistance. Above all, the unions within the factories had failed to build up their organization; membership did not increase proportionally to the increase in the working population, and continued to depend on the male, skilled and older section of the workforce for its leadership. Measures of union recognition and agreement to plant bargaining by the internal commissions were circumscribed by both management and union preference for centralized negotiation at higher levels. The unskilled and semi-skilled, the women, younger workers and immigrants were the most exposed to the pressures of the labour market and to changes in the labour process. These workers’ interests were inadequately represented. Union analyses of changes in the labour process led to policies of accepting technical change as good in itself rather than as inherently structured by capitalist relations. Bad working conditions were accepted in exchange for monetary compensation. Wage differentials were accepted as a reflection of objective skills together with the introduction of new grades for the highly skilled. In short, the key mechanisms of division and hierarchical control within the factory were not comprehensively challenged by the unions. The anger and explosive militancy of the most oppressed and ’ exploited sections were treated as an abberration, as evidenced by the . celebrated Piazza Statuto incidents in Turin in 1962.

In the mid sixties economic development centred on restructuring and rationalization of plant to maximize the rate of relative exploitation, without increasing capital investment to the level of the 1951-63 period. Speed-ups of the line and increases in workloads reached intolerable levels in some factories. Managements replaced women and older workers by young semi-skilled men because of their physical endurance. The atmosphere in the factories was no longer one of fear and intimidation, but unions had still not been readily accepted as bargainers within the workplaces. Leopoldo Pirelli, vice-president of the Confindustria, publicly espoused enlightened acceptance of trade unionism, whilst within his factories he withheld recognition from the CGIL. The idea that the factory was exclusively under management control and that it was vital to defend the conquests of the 1950s in this sphere was shared by the ‘enlightened’ vanguard of Italian industry and the small company owner alike. Negotiation was limited to powerless joint consultative bodies. Repression had become more selective, and management was more self-conscious about control techniques, but otherwise the paternalist model remained intact.

The contradictions within the factory were not, however, displaced into the market, nor were workers’ struggles for higher wages transformed into a mechanism for expanding the home market. Carli, president of the Bank of Italy, did not pursue a Keynesian economic policy characteristic of other advanced capitalist countries. The brief experience of a higher standard of living was cut short. The language of class consciousness promoted in the propaganda of the CGIL connected up with widespread resentment over social inequalities. The propagation in the newspapers and on television of ideas about Italian prosperity, and invocations to spend produced ‘needs’ and expectations that were frustrated by the meagreness of the wage packet.

The relationship between the capitalist interest groups and the government was also fraught with differences. The re-emergence of industrial conflict and the demise of an earlier industrial and political equilibrium made some leading sections of the capitalist class look to government for solutions, Fiat and Pirelli promoted the idea of a trade-off involving reforms in exchange for lower wage increases. For these big companies, planned wage increases and additional taxation were worth conceding if they sought social peace, because their chief concern was with the costs of running capital-intensive plant, Moreover, their representatives, like Pirelli, prided themselves on being long-term thinkers and modernizers. On the other hand, the smaller companies that dominated the Confindustria in the 1960s depended on keeping wages to a minimum, and had a laissez fairist hatred of government interference and taxation. The hostile campaign of the Confindustria against the nationalization of the electrical industry, and its attempt to block reforms characterized its unrelenting efforts to sabotage the Centre-Left government. This lobby proved more determined and influential than the reformers.

The big companies did little to support the government reforms, and went along with deflation because the buoyant international market provided an outlet for their goods. The half-hearted attempt to delegate the task of managing consensus to the state was ultimately a failure because the ruling bloc was not prepared to allow it sufficient autonomy to act against some of its immediate interests. However, there were no comprehensive alternative approaches to industrial relations within the private companies; no policy of greater flexibility was designed to involve the unions themselves in the disciplining of their membership. The relative ease with which the counter-offensive of the mid sixties was carried out gave management the illusion that their prerogatives were safe from serious threat.

The unions and the nuclei of militants formed in the struggles of 1960-63 were thrown into confusion by the downturn in their fortunes. Rifts reappeared between the confederations; the CISL and UIL supported the Centre-left government and its proposed incomes policy, whilst the CGIL was split between its PCI component, which opposed wage control without adequate guarantees that there would be far-reaching reforms, and the Socialists who were loyal to their government. In the interests of formal unity the CGIL ended by expressing opposition without mobilizing it. Attention focused on the development of national negotiations, whilst the politicking dissipated the fragile unity among the rank-and-file.

The gap between the representative structures of unions and Left parties and sections of the working class widened. The unions’ introduction of new factory-based forms of representation remained on paper whilst the internal commissions did not revive their plant bargaining activity because of the limits set by national contracts. Within the factories the PCI cells withered, and many of their papers ceased publication. Outside the factory, neither unions nor parties tried to organize the unemployed. The transformation that had changed the composition of the working class through reorganizations of the labour process had also radically altered its housing and living conditions. Massive urbanization and growth of the northern industrial cities destroyed the roots of older political sub-cultures.

In the 1950s the grass-roots structures of the political parties - the parish structure on which the Christian Democrats depended, and the sections of the Left parties - had adapted to the relatively slow demographic changes. A political geography of ‘red’ and ‘white’ zones had been fairly clearly delineated and the associations of civil society were a permeated by political affiliations. Especially in the case of the PCI, party life defined social horizons, and an intense and embattled community spirit was formed. Much political mobilization and activity was functional to the preservation of the organization. In the cities there were quarters where the urban space (the courtyards of the tenement houses, the local osteria) served to underpin social solidarity. However the rapid urbanization of the ‘miracle’ years provoked the decomposition of these communities.

The bases of the Left parties were hit in several ways. Thousands of migrants, particularly from the south, went into peripheral areas of the cities where the parties had no pre-existing organization, or into inner city areas that became heavily overpopulated. The party sections were used to relating to relatively stable communities of families, and were ill-prepared to cope with the needs of the solitary male immigrant. The Church organizations for immigrant workers and the Christian Democrats had more adequate ways and means for dealing with immediate material wants. The letter of recommendation for the job and the provision of charity fitted with paternalist practices in the factory. Then the immigrants themselves made up for all the shortcomings of the welfare services with the organization of self-help, usually on a family basis. ln an atmosphere that was often one of discrimination against the Southerner (terrone), solidarity among immigrants led to a certain ‘ghettoization’. The incapacity of the Left parties to respond to the needs of these people by fighting for the provision of housing, against high rents and for real equalities of living conditions with the older generation of inhabitants meant that they were not attracted to the existing political structures.

Urban development also involved a progressive undermining of the traditional working-class strongholds. Previously peripheral areas of the cities suddenly became relatively central, and prone to ‘gentrification’ by the middle classes, whilst the centre was monopolized by the office blocks and big shops. Then more general changes in society overtook the parties. Within the working class a gap grew up between the fathers whose politics were formed in the period of the Resistance and Cold War, and children who were becoming adults within a world of East-West detente and relative international capitalist growth. Both the ideologies of a Stalinist Marxism that forecast imminent economic collapse, and of traditional Catholic morality were losing their relevance. Communist Party membership figures show a steady decline for the period 1954 to 1968. As a percentage of the industrial working class it was falling, but the fall in the membership of the youth federation (FGCI) was even more dramatic.

The inability of the PCI, and of the PSI (which was ceasing to be a mass · party), to recruit, represent and mobilize workers, and particularly immigrant workers, youth and women, signalled a failure to deal with the major social transformations of postwar Italy. Taylorization, urbanization, mass schooling and mass migration were important aspects of the remaking of the Italian working class in the postwar decades. Yet, the Communist Party did not know how to organize around the social conflicts they engendered. The parties’ and unions’ inability to interpret and represent discontent in civil society was accompanied by their tendency to look to parliament and the state to resolve or alleviate the contradictions that had been accumulated in the period of economic boom. Action in civil society was subordinated to parliamentary manoeuvres, electioneering and forms of pressure-group politics. The PSI was immobilized from 1963 because of its involvement in government, and owed its influence in the CGIL to its personnel in the leadership rather than on the shop-floor, whilst in the constituencies it too used the spoils of office to cultivate a clientelist vote. It underwent the classic Italian political process of ‘transformism’. The PCI remained in official opposition, but within parliament cooperated in drafting legislation. Whilst the PCI remained a mass party of the working class, and its leaders stressed the importance of membership and implantation in civil society, in the period 1954 to 1968 it was undergoing a process of ‘electoralization’. The party’s votes marginally increased, but its membership declined. In 1968 the PCI’s capacity to mobilize subordinate groups had seldom been weaker. It followed rather than led the mass social movements of 1968-9.

This incapacity of the political parties of the Left and the unions to articulate and represent discontent within civil society meant that when people mobilized, they resorted to disruption rather than to the ballot-box or to petitioning. The claims of the politicians and trade unionists about the importance of organization, discipline and alternative reforms went unheard. Where the official organizations in centres of discontent (like large factories and universities) were weakest, the forms of protest tended to be the most unruly. One of the most dramatic examples which showed this in1968-9 was social conflict in Turin; the very factors which had weakened the resistance of workers and subordinate groups - immigration, repressive paternalism, scientific management, depoliticization - created the conditions for a highly radicalized revolt. The steady erosion and destruction of the sense of community within the workplace and the city created a need to build that community through collective resistance. However, there was nothing automatic about this process. Resistance grew up because of changes in how individuals and groups perceived their situation.

03. The agitators and moral outrage

From the end of the 1950s Italy was a country undergoing simultaneous major upheavals in its social and economic structure, so that it experienced change with a sudden intensity. John Low-Beer writes that the

innovative militancy of the Italian labour movement since 1968 may be explained partly by the conjunction of a number of changes in the society in the previous years: the rapid growth of manufacturing in the North and the concomitant immigration from rural areas of the South to the industrial cities of the North; and the increase in the student population and in the number of technicians in the advanced sectors of industry. The spread of values particular to post-industrial society thus coincided with the large influx of young immigrants into semi-skilled jobs. In Britain or the United States, these changes were separated by at least a generation. Their overlap proved to be an explosive situation.

As has been seen, the reorganization of the workplace and the city had contradictory effects; thus, the labour militancy can in part be ascribed to the discontent of the immigrant workers, but immigration also had consequences of making organization and resistance more difficult. The changes provoked fractures between the parties of the Left and the unions and their constituencies, and made their analyses of social realities hopelessly inadequate. So there was nothing automatic about the emergence of the spirit of collective protest and opposition. It grew first of all on the margins of the organizations and in the minds of dissident and disaffected individuals. These figures will be the subjects of this section; firstly, in the shape of intellectuals and, secondly, in that of the worker-militant.

A Dissident Intelligentsia
The period of the 1960s was characterized by a ferment among intellectuals on the Left reacting against the Marxism of the Communist and Socialist parties, and searching for a revitalized theory. Groupings which became known as the New Left set themselves a historic task; it was, in Giovanni Bechelloni’s words:

a political culture which aimed to break with the heritage of idealism (a heritage which appeared in the thinking of the Left parties in the shape of historicism, Gramscianism, neo-realism and philosophical Marxism); to do this, it re-read Marx as the sociologist of capitalist society, but the return to Marx was characterized by a tension between theoretical inquiry and political commitment.

This project’s outcome can be examined in different ways, but here the primary concern is with the New Left ’s critique of the organizations claiming to represent the working class, and with its role in promoting social mobilization. The focus will be on its reviews, and on the political initiatives emerging from them.

The importance of the review in the 1960s needs to be related to the particular role of intellectuals in Italian society, especially on the Left, and to the political debate of the period. Firstly, it is worth noting that the idea of the review as a privileged format for theoretical/political intervention sprang up within the milieu of the city intelligentsia. Becchelloni describes it as being composed of groups of people peripheral to the political parties, who teach in universities, often on a temporary basis, or in a liceo; they have connections with publishing houses, live in the cities of the Centre and North, and many travel to the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Their marginality is significant in that it is also the result of a choice that involves an alternative intellectual route, which is cosmopolitan. It holds the promise of a future that others might not be able to see. In this spirit Franco Fortini wrote in a letter published in the first edition of Quaderni Piacentini:

The history of contemporary Westem societies is the history of individuals and minorities who decide not to bow to the inevitable.... those who in their isolation have decided not to remain alone.

In a similar vein, characteristic of the significance of the visionary in the mythology of the Left, Danilo Montaldi wrote of Lenin as someone who 'did not accept "reality”, and by "dreaming” realized what no “realist” succeeded even in imagining'. The roles assigned to the intellectual were as numerous as the different currents within the New Left, but there was a shared belief in the power of ideas and hence, even if implicitly, in that of their authors and disseminators. A high moral tone and deep seriousness emanated from the pages of the reviews, and dominated the oppositional culture.

It is significant, however, that in the 1960s it was largely through reviews rather than through books that cultural exploration was pursued. This particular cultural vehicle was more suitable to the needs and aspirations of a new brand of intelligentsia. It facilitated the expression of a collective as opposed to individualistic ethos such as that celebrated in the dominant culture’s conception of the artist and thinker. Goffredo Forfi has remarked on the peculiar value of the review:

I have always been convinced that reviews, more so than books, ‘make culture’, if only because very few really important books get published .... Working on a review requires practical knowledge and abilities; there is the exchange of opinions between people, the taking up of positions, the making of decisions in relation to what is happening, the capacity to reason and to choose between proposals.

The importance of the reviews and the sense that intellectuals had something important to contribute related to the context of rapid social change, which seemed to call for new maps and compass readings. Bechelloni lists six reviews as being the most influential: Quarderni Rossi, Quaderni Piacentini, Classe e Stato, Classe Operaia, Contropiano and Nuovo Impegno. Of these, attention will be given to Quaderni Rossi (QR) and Quaderni Piacentini (QP), which first came out in September 1961 and March 1962 respectively, and to Classe Operaia. The first task faced by the reviews was to make a comprehensive critique of the traditional Left, and the second (though it did not necessarily follow) was to elaborate alternatives. Bechelloni has written:

The history of the reviews and of the relations (or lack of them) with the parties and organizations of the Workers’ Movement can also be studied as the history of the incapacity for renewal and openness on the part of the leaderships of the latter.

This blockage became particularly evident in the post-1956 renewal of debate on democracy, though it should be pointed out that this was most lively in the Socialist Party where there was a greater range of opinion from pro-Soviet to social libertarian than in the Communist Party. Leading spirits within Quaderni Rossi, like Raniero Panzieri, were former members of the PSI or part of critical minorities within it, like Vittorio Foa. The entry of the party into government in 1963 and the subsequent foundation of the PSIUP further distanced the intellectual dissidents?
There was no equivalent split in the Communist Party until the Manifesto group’s formation in 1969, although prestigious individuals like the philosopher Lucio Colletti left in protest against Stalinism. However, it was an obligatory point of reference and target of criticism as the biggest party and the custodian of Marxist orthodoxy.

The critiques made of the parties were predominantly of what was seen as their ‘social democratization’. This was most evident in the case of the Socialist Party, but was also thought to apply to a Communist Party that was oriented to parliamentarism and losing touch with the industrial working class. This line of analysis had a long history in the writings of the Bordigist and Trotskyist organizations, which claimed to be the genuine heirs to Marx and Lenin. For them, the key to revolution lay in the role of the party and the adoption of the ‘correct political line’. In the 1960s this approach was given a new lease of life with the popularity of the Chinese model following the Cultural Revolution of 1965-6. The Chinese model answered a call for orthodoxy and the wish to believe in a promised land. However, the critiques developed by the Quaderni Rossi, and by Raniero Panzieri in particular, departed from this sterile tradition. They questioned elements of the tradition itself as well as what were seen as its deformations at the hands of the Socialist and Communist Parties.

Panzieri’s critique was far-reaching and had lasting effects precisely because it did not recapitulate the attacks on the parties for ‘betraying’ the working class or for deviating from the orthodoxies. He said quite simply that the problems went back to the founding fathers themselves, whose object of analysis had been laissez faire capitalism. A consequence of this was that they gave disproportionate importance to planning and to the common ownership of the means of production as the defining features of socialism. It was, then, these aspects that predominated in the thinking of the modern parties. They espoused the vogue for technological change, planning and modernization, thereby subordinating themselves to the logic of neo-capitalist development. Panzieri did not spell out his own position, but in his writings others found critiques of the vanguardist conception of the party, ideas for council communism, and the brief for ltalian appropriations of Chinese experiments in breaking down divisions of mental and manual labour. Panzieri did not live long enough to see this happen, and was not a person lightly to dismiss the parties and unions with which he had worked for so long. However, a younger generation had less caution and greater expectations.

The question of alternative organization and concrete political intervention haunted the intellectuals associated with the reviews. Above all, they accepted the Marxist insistence on the unity of theory and practice. However, they were more in agreement over their differences with the traditional Left than in how to act on their ideas. The problem was less pressing for Quaderni Piacentini which assumed the role of a forum and published articles from a range of viewpoints, including the first appearances in Italian of writings by Marcuse, Horkheimer and Habermas. For the Quaderni Rossi, on the other hand, disagreement ended in splits and the launching of Classe Operaia. The editorial group was divided in its estimation of whether the time was ripe for setting up a revolutionary organization; Panzieri and Vittorio Reiser referred to the engineering contract of 1962 as a defeat for both the unions and the working class, while for the future founders of Classe Operaia, Romano Alquati and Mario Tronti, the former had indeed been defeated, but the working class had made a ‘qualitative leap’.

The fate of Quaderni Rossi and Classe Operaia, neither of which survived longer than a couple of years, would be of little interest but for their place in the history of the Italian New Left. Their role has retrospectively acquired mythic qualities. Particularly celebrated were Tronti’s articles: ‘Lenin in England’, ‘Factory and Society’ and ‘The Strategy of Refusal’, which proved to be founding documents of Italian operaismo. A key formulation was:

We too have worked with a concept that puts capitalist development first and the workers second, and this is a mistake. Now we have to turn the problem on its head . . . and start again from the beginning: and the beginning is the class struggle of the working class. At the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development follows hard behind the struggles ....

From this perspective, the history of recent capitalist development was rethought; the major economic transformations, mass production and state initiatives to underwrite wage gains and job security were seen as responses to working class insurgency in the period following the Russian Revolution. These, in turn, created the conditions for new levels of class struggle. The mass worker of the modern factory, unlike the craft worker of an earlier stage of capitalist development, expressed a radical antagonism to the production process itself. The ‘strategy of refusal’, to use Tronti’s words, entailed the refusal of production obligations (through strikes, sabotage and manning struggles) and the escalation of wage demands. Tronti interpreted these tacit and tactical practices as workers’ struggles to make the fulfilment of needs independent of capital’s requirements. For him the mass worker short-circuited union representation, and traditional party policies.

The concept of workers’ autonomy (autonomia operaia) was not invented by Tronti, but he had an important role in defining a term which was to become a touchstone of revolutionary politics over the next ten years. (A mapping of the different uses to which the term has been put would make an interesting study in its own right. It was important not only for political activists but set the terms of wider cultural debate. In the mid and late sixties workers’ autonomy was understood to mean autonomy from capital (the refusal of workers to define their need and demands according to capital’s need for labour power subordinate to the rhythms of the production process), and autonomy from external organizations (workers’ independence from the parties and unions which were seen to be subservient to capital). As such, it represented the most absolute and essentialist conception of social movement. However, the problem of assessing the influence of the new ideas about political movements remains. How significant were people like Panzieri and Tronti, who were the outside agitators? Did they undermine the old inevitability, and were they also ‘the travelling salesmen of the new inevitability? Most people, if they had been asked this question in 1967, would undoubtedly have dismissed as irrelevant the reviews and the alternative organizations of the New Left. The circulation of the former were highly restricted; in late 1967 Quaderni Piacentini sold 4,000 copies, and Classe Operaia sold a maximum of 5,000 before it ceased publication in 1966.The organizations were weak. An inquiry by the review Nuovo lmpegno in 1967 found that they numbered eighteen, but they had ‘virtually no workers inside them, and little effect on struggles or presence in the factories’. Bechelloni writes that

this political culture was developed in restricted intellectual circles, and, during the 1960s, had only the faintest of echoes in political and cultural debate and in political events.

Moreover, the reviews were taken by surprise by the sudden rise of the student movement. They had paid little attention to the problems inside the educational institutions, or to the protest in the United States. A certain fixation with the factory conflict produced myopia in relation to other social tensions. Moreover, the reformist and modernizing ambitions of the government were taken at face value as the manifestation of neo-capitalist planning, so that their demise was not seriously considered.

However, measurement of influence by circulation and membership figures can be misleading. Quaderni Rossi illustrates this. It was a review with a small circulation, but a disproportionately large readership. It played a seminal role in the emergence of a sociology of the workers’ movement, but the review was also a point of reference and inspiration for a generation of political and trade union activists. It gave dignity and significance to workers’ opinions and experience.

An interview recorded in 1967 with a union activist at the Sit Siemens electrical engineering factory in Milan is interesting on this point. She recalls that when she went to complain to Communist Party officials that they had not understood the problems on the shop-floor (tens of women had been suffering fainting fits and hysteria because of the pressure of work, but the union agreed to compensation rather than a reduction of line-speeds):

they came back at me with ‘that’s what the Quaderni Rossi people say` and so on. I, poor thing, hadn’t a clue who these people were, so I went to find out.

She described how, when she went to speak about working conditions at . meetings, ‘an official was sent with me so that I bore witness to my experience, and he drew the political conclusions’. The Quaderni Rossi experiment, in other words, proposed an alternative method of political work which attempted to overcome this division of labour. The ideas coming from the New Left need to be put in the broader context of their intellectual significance and their fashionableness. They presented challenges to the orthodox readings of Marx, Lenin and Gramsci. They were like a breath of fresh air. For example, Asor Rosa’s Scrittori e Popolo, which attacked neo—Gramscian accounts of the Italian literature, and Tronti’s Operai e Capitale were intellectual landmarks for the younger generation in the universities. Publishers who sympathized with these views, saw the market possibilities opened up by interest in such radical political texts. They promoted and capitalized on the emergence of a new market, and fed the immense hunger for cultural and political discussion with a flow of new publications. Primo Moroni and Bruna Miorelli have written:

A great laboratory was formed in which Stalinists, libertarians, council communists, Leninists, operaisti and ‘spontanists’ all took part. Their strictly political themes mixed with Marcuse, Laing, Cooper, the Frankfurt School. Remember the enormous impact of don Milani’s Letter to a School-Teacher which was printed by a minuscule publisher with organic ties with the community. If it now seems little more than . . . populist, at the time it gave vent to an aggressive radical opposition to the system. Books and symbols of the international struggles in China, Vietnam and Cuba were readily consumed. The Feltrinelli bookshops sold literally tons of Che Guevara posters. The old public made up of intellectuals, trade unionists and party officials was joined by a new type of purchaser - the student and young worker. The old eighteenth century idea of the bookshop as a place of culture was superseded by the modern one of the market opening on to the street.

Of the more established publishers, it was Giangiacomo Feltrinelli who proved most adept at sowing the seeds of new-leftism and reaping the subsequent harvest in the wake of 1968. His story is both intriguing and illuminating.

Feltrinelli, the millionaire owner of one of Milan’s largest publishing companies, was fascinated by the Latin American revolutionary movements and dreamt of imitating its methods of guerilla warfare in Italy. He was, therefore, attracted by elements of the New Left who looked to Cuba and the Third World for inspiration, rather than by the traditional Left. An article in the review La Sinistra in July1967 drew a picture of Feltrinelli:

His hair, long and disorderly like a beatnik’s, his moustache drooping and wearing a very colourful tie . . . he spoke to us of his conversations with Fidel, and of the uplifting experience of a people .. . who generously supported the fight against Yankee imperialism.

Although Feltrinelli’s relations with the New Left were full of contradictions on account of his wealth (these came into the open when a student meeting greeted him with the slogan: ‘Two, three, a thousand million’), nevertheless his readiness to publish its documents and to provide financial support should not be lightly dismissed.

Firstly, Feltrinelli, along with smaller publishers like Samona and Savelli, pioneered the opening up of a new market, and, in the process, gave currency to the new ideas. Thus, the social movements were able to make use of already existing networks linking political initiatives to the publishers. Secondly, Feltrinelli’s attraction to the revolutionary cause illustrates the way that romance and adventure were fashionably associated with the Left in this period. His case is exceptional, but the phenomenon of ‘defections’ by the sons and daughters of the wealthy and influential in Italy was to take on scandalous proportions.

In early 1967 the New Left was marginal to political and intellectual life in Italy, but it was perhaps not as marginal as might at first be imagined. Clearly, the reviews were the preserve of a tiny minority, and the established parties dominated debate. At the same time, as analysis of the student movement will show, the new ideas made considerable inroads into the acceptance of the parties as the inevitable representatives of opposition in the country. More generally, the New Left was a symptom of wider shifts of opinion. Many of the themes developed by the New Left on the nature of modern capitalism and on the reorganization of the factory, touched on problems that were preoccupying people who had to live with worsening working conditions and falling wages. The themes developed by Quaderni Rossi and its operaist offspring were in many ways prophetic. A marginal grouping of intellectuals managed to put their finger on the pulse of discontent and to identify its causes in the transformations of the labour process in the factories, but in addition they anticipated the radical demands. In the mid sixties few listened, but by the end of the decade the call for the abolition of grades, for lump sum wage increases, for the elimination of piece rates, for direct workers’ democracy, were heard in hundreds of workplaces.

However, workers, who had little enough opportunity to come into contact with the new Left ideas before 1968, arrived at radical analyses of society by other routes. For them, the older traditions of resistance - Socialist, Communist and even Catholic - and the ‘moral economies’ of workplace and community - were more important in shaping their rebellion. These agitators were, moreover, insiders rather than outsiders.

Worker Agitators
The agitators within the factories in the period before 1968 were mainly drawn from, or had been within, the ranks of the Communist Party, and were the backbone of union organization. They were especially well qualified for this role for a number of reasons, which related mostly to their political rather than their trade union identities. Above all, these people resisted the pressures of everyday experience that seemed to say that nothing could really be changed. A woman militant recalls the positive aspects of her experience of the party, which she subsequently left in 1967; to the question: ‘Did you always believe in revolution and the overthrow of the state?’, she replied:

Yes, , . . it seemed that at a certain moment along the road something could happen that had never happened before . . . at one level, ingenuously, I believed that this society is not ours, and we must create a society of our own that is different. This is what the PCI taught and it did it well. It is not by chance that it took the best part of the working class because of its sense of responsibility the militant had to be very serious, honest, humble, conscientious, and present himself to the workers by putting himself at their service.

The life of this particular agitator bears witness to her words, in that she was sacked several times for her activism (a penalty she viewed as an ordinary part of her ‘training’), but her struggle was also against the ‘sense of resignation... the feeling that as a woman you have to accept what you’re given’.

The Communist Party membership and background was, however, no automatic guarantee of a militant’s ability to represent and mobilize fellow workers. When ideology was separated out from, and even counter-posed to the ‘moral economies’ of groups of workers, then it could function repressively as seen in the instance of the response of PCI officials to emotional reactions to working conditions, which was regarded as an economic issue to be resolved by monetary agreement. In the mid to late sixties, a number of agitators found themselves in conflict with the party, which seemed incapable of organizing the intense feelings of resentment and outrage on the shop-floor, and which they felt had reneged on its promise to bring about radical change. For them, immersion in the daily realities of the factory was also an act of purification and a return to the roots of the Communist project. The role of these agitators was enhanced by their political connections, which linked them to outside networks, giving them additional resources of information and moral and intellectual support.

The Marxist tradition, in all its many variants, was undoubtedly the most significant ideology in encouraging the idea of social transformation in the 1960s. A whole history, as has been mentioned, lies behind this legacy. Catholicism, by contrast, was predominantly associated with social and political conservatism. However, radical interpretations of Catholic belief, often influenced by Marxist thought, took shape among workers as well as among intellectuals. Interesting light can be thrown on the role of agitator as evangelist by the autobiography of Antonio Antonuzzo, in whom life in the modern factory provoked deep-felt moral outrage.

Antonio Antonuzzo was Sicilian in origin, but his family transferred to . Tuscany in search of work, a search that eventually took him to Milan. In 1961 he got a job at Alfa Romeo. For the first three years he was the typical, obedient hard worker. He got the job after receiving help from the Christian Democrats and a charity organization for immigrants, and gained promotion to skilled status because of his good relations with the foreman. At work his main concern was self-advancement through hard work, and, although not a scab, during strikes he went with his friends (mostly meridionali like himself) to ‘seek out a woman with a good heart who sells the wares of love’. Their idea of collective action did not rise above bargaining the rate with the women concerned.

Antonuzzo does not point to a single incident as precipitating a change from an individualist, deferential consciousness to a belief that there was a collective way of struggling to save the working class from its subordination. He writes of becoming aware of the disproportion between wages and work done, but more significant is a sense of revulsion at the inhumanity perpetrated in the factory: 'When a machine broke down, you became aware of how little you mattered to the management: a series of technicians rushed to get it working, whilst when a worker had an accident or could no longer work they replaced him by a more efficient one.’ It shocked him that such things were tolerated by the Catholic Church; ‘in the name of Christ they justified the injustices suffered by the exploited. But it was through the radicalized Catholic FIM-CISL that Antonuzzo became a militant. He applied himself assiduously to unionizing others, using his mobility as a ‘jolly’ and his speed as a worker to travel around the factory. Often he wrote articles for the factory union paper in the lavatory. In an attempt to buy him off, management offered Antonuzzo a foreman’s job, but he had already decided against the individualist option so that the offer could only increase his angry determination to foment revolt. His account of the treatment meted out to scabs during the 1966 industrial dispute celebrates an old ritual of collective theatre in which the ‘Judas’ is paid off:

I collected five lire from every worker on my team and I said to every one of them that they should shout ‘scab’ when I threw the money on the bench in front of him.

For Antonuzzo the discovery of the union coincided with the creation for himself of a new identity and sense of belonging. It was deeply personal:

until I joined the union I saw the family as a personal matter. After joining, I came to think about it as something I shared with other people.

His conception of society and of his place in it had been transformed. The experience was something that he felt the need to communicate to his fellow workers. When in 1967 he became a full-time organizer for the FIM-CISI, he was given the possibility of dedicating himself completely to the cause he had espoused. He experienced the joys of evangelism: ‘when I went among the workers . . . I had a host of things to say because I felt one of them and I was happy because they listened to me with attention.’ Antonuzzo’s rebellion against injustice was very particular and his conversion to socialism was minoritarian. It was especially marked by his Catholic faith and his southern origins, and it took place in a period in which the majority of workers appeared to accept their lot. However, his anger and thirst for action were not isolated and hidden obsessions; rather, Antonuzzo could sense himself giving vent to collective feelings. It was a time when the rumble of popular protest could be heard under the surface of the society; it was a time that agitators dream of.

Cracks in the Fabric
In 1968-9 Italy experienced what Gramsci termed an ‘organic crisis’. Social movements broke the mould of institutional definitions of politics, and the insurgency in civil society put the authority of the ruling bloc in question. But, as has been shown in this chapter, the mould was already badly cracked before it was put under the intense pressure of new political demands. There was a massive withdrawal of support and delegation with respect to the structures of representation, especially in the light of the failure of the Centre-Left government to live up to its promises. It was a clear case of the ‘ruling class failing to achieve a noteworthy political enterprise for which it had demanded their approval’. Disappointment and disillusionment were registered in the general elections of May 1968 ·when the Socialist Party votes fell dramatically, and the small rival to the left, the PSIUP, won ground. However, the rift between representatives and represented went further. Emilio Colombo’s summary of the cause of the crisis in progress, given to the national council of the Christian Democratic Party in January 1969, is instructive:

Where have we fallen short? It seems to me that reforms have got nowhere, so the structures of civil society have aged and the whole fabric has deteriorated. Social forces have not found suitable channels for the expression of their sense of freedom. That’s why the moment of pluralism is becoming, in our society, a moment of disorder. The wave of unrest, and even irrationality, is all the more disturbing when sectors which are by nature given to reformist action pursue revolutionary objectives because of their profound disillusionment with the methods and timing whereby reforms have been carried out by the politicians.

The failure of the Centre-Left reforms had particularly serious consequences given the scale and stressfulness of the socio economic changes following the ‘miracle’ years. There was the growth of widespread scepticism about the possibility of redressing injustices and reducing inequalities through parliamentary measures. The Communist Party, too, was affected by this mood, which strengthened the hand of its left-wing and dissident members. In this context, the revolutionary option did not seem very much less realistic than the reformist one, particularly when Italian history seemed to suggest that sudden and dramatic popular mobilizations produced more results than gradual parliamentary reforms. The social contract, in other words, could it seemed, only be redrawn through the actions of social movements. This tradition of popular protest was part of a rich historical legacy that still had adherents within a Communist Party that had been systematically excluded from government since 1947. It was, moreover, the moving force behind the agitators who were heretics looking for an authentically revolutionary communism. With the demise of the political parties, the idea of political action that dealt on the spot with problems and injustices acquired its rationale and legitimacy, even though it appeared irrational to government ministers.

The ideologies of resistance and rebellion, and the moral economies of groups of workers were of great importance to the process of social mobilization which began in late 1967. Without them, the crisis of representation would have produced disillusionment without hope in change. As the interpreters and propagandists of discontent, the agitators played a crucial role, especially in the early stages of the movements. Although the surge of collective defiance surprised most militants in the factories in 1968, nevertheless they were ready, in that they looked to their fellow workers rather than to the organizations as the force for change in the world. Similarly, among students it was the exponents of the New Left who were most prepared to initiate disruption and construct alternatives. The role of the agitators was undoubtedly positive in many respects, though with the proviso that they were in many respects the revivers of an older faith rather than apostles of a new one.