A slice of an assembly and some interventions by the Metropolitan Indians

A slice of an assembly and some interventions by the Metropolitan Indians

A L'Europeo article, presumably around '77, containing coverage of an assembly and interviews with Metropolitan Indians.

What do you want to talk about they ask her. “Sexuality”, she breathes, “about my sexuality”. Desperately gripping the mic Rebecca with eye-catching fear dare hardly speak. “Comrades… I’ve had relationships with men and also with women comrades – that is I mean – I’ve also had lesbian relationships and it’s always been very beautiful… and one time I had a relationship with a gay boy who had never been with a girl... for me there only exists comradely sexuality and sexuality is also to look a person in the eye and also to look at a flower because when I look at a flower I lose myself – this is what I wanted and I’ve never succeeded in saying it”. She stops shouting, leaves the microphone and hugs the first person she finds, laughs loudly, her words losing themselves amidst strained, anxious faces and then finally “the great petite-bourgeois taboo” breaks out in libertarian applause. In the assembly on sexuality in the occupied economics and business study building, young men and women, gays and drug addicts, frichettari, autonomists, Indians and militants of Lotta Continua participate in a heterogeneous and contradictory universe. “I believe in people, I believe in emotions” said Rebecca again and her interjection expresses better than any political discourse, the desire for liberation and love, a condition of anguish and solitude, the need to escape from the ghetto of marginalisation that is at the origin of the movement of these youths who have defined themselves with desperate irony, Metropolitan Indians.

Outside in the hall the Prevestino tribe have organised “a happening of war and festivity” as Fulvio and Theo call it, their faces painted like savages, empty beer cans in their hands, beating time on an overturned dustbin. Stefano and others are dancing in a circle. The only stall is selling frascati beer not ideological journals. “Wine Store, Wine Store” said a slogan: “Mineral water is only an illusion, the only way is the bottle” turning inside out one of the ultra-leftist preferred phrases: “The historic compromise is only an illusion, the only way is revolution”. In another room a dozen or so youths are beating on a bench. Someone comes up asking for a moment’s silence while he reads a communiqué against “Cossiga’s blue meanies” but provokes another slogan: “You are scum Cossiga look how many we are”.

It’s eight in the evening, 400 youths are standing around. I’m hungry shouts one. “Expropriate, expropriate” the others reply. Slowly they break up returning to their tribes in the villages. After a council of war -“if we are not blue meanies then we are palefaces”- the ones from Prevestino accept our invitation to have a bite to eat.

Waiting for the number 30 tram, the Indians hold a pow wow between themselves. They decide that, “tonight Indians no auto-reduction. We shall pay the fare but we will make an intervention”. The half-empty tram arrives. The Indians get in shouting among themselves… Nello is the chief comedian. “I’m hungry,” he says with an imploring voice. “Hooligan, hooligan” his comrades echo back at him. Nello lies down in the gangway at the feet of the curious passengers. The others are standing pretending to push and shove. “5,000 hours for 35 lira this is the contract we want to pave the way for,” said Theo turning intentionally on a passenger reading a book who looks like a worker. An old woman gets on the tram and the Indians kindly give her a seat, which she takes with an embarrassed smile. “More shacks, less housing” the Indians shout wildly and provocatively while the tram conductor smiles and the worker shakes his head perplexed. Nello, tall, lanky, looking unreal with war paint on his thin face, winks: “But really what do these youths want, they are tramps, wretches and though you may not know it even drug addicts”… “It’s my fault, it’s my fault, it’s my greatest fault” chant the Indians beating their chests, eyes cast to the ground.

Meanwhile, the tram has arrived at Travestere. Nello gets up and calls the tribe together. Then with a sly smile he turns to the passengers, “if we have disturbed you, excuse us. But to talk to you is the only way of getting to know us”.

Mario is in the habitual haunt of the Prevestino Indians. Pasta costs 1500 lira, you eat off a proper napkin, and the proprietor is a comrade. The Indians have removed their paint, unfastened the red ribbons that bound their hair and having washed off all the trappings and ingenuous arrogance and, appearing now before a pizza, become what they really are: the sub-proletariat of Rome. It’s a sad metamorphosis that unfolds before our very eyes. Also the accent has changed from that of “man of the people” to the bastardised thick, coarse Romanesque of the ghetto. “I was an illegitimate kid, used t’ut wok in Inman, then I worked in a car saleroom. They gave me 50 thousand lira without any health insurance, no taxes, no insurance said another guy also called Nello, an eighteen year old from Prevestino... “Only now with a job, I realise there is a possibility of discussing your problems with others, the possibility of being gay without being grabbed by the neck as the PCI does, marginalising the fricchettori and heroin addicts. So with Metropolitan Indians it’s even fashionable to escape through drugs. We campaigned against heroin – the PCI and PSI have nothing to do with ‘em, they chase ‘em out. Before I went along with the Met’ Indians I was in Lotta Continua but I felt oppressed as an individual. I lacked creativity you see”.

Stefano is sitting next to him. He is also 18 and has had some experience of the FUGCI (Communist youth). “For a while I worked on the “Unita” festival but they kicked me out pretty quickly because certain things went on. For them the prime necessities were just eating and sleeping but pizzas cost me a lot as well not just the cinema and theatre. They did me for this, so I went along with the Indians which are the only groups trying to make a revolution. After the Lama affair the PCI accused us of being the new fascism but it’s not true because we are only unemployed, simply proletarians looking for work”.

Giampero is in his third year studying literature. He is sitting at the other side of the table. “I am a worker’s son and to keep myself I am a morning porter. At the coop you give them a cut, as they want half your wage. Most of the jobs though go to the party’s canvassers. My old man and woman belong to the PCI but they also live in a repressive situation even if my family is left wing. My mother suffers from my father’s repression even if it isn’t that harsh. My father repressed my mother because in the neighbourhood where he lived a woman is a woman and must submit. She wanted to be left wing but woe betides anyone who entered his castle. My father is the kind of person who wouldn’t allow anything to be discussed even though he’s been a card carrying member of the PCI for 30 years.”

The Metropolitan Indians appeared very recently. One heard about them at the end of November 1976 when a manifesto signed with a tomahawk called for “circles of young people” to come together. In turn circles appeared at the end of last summer in nearly all the sub-proletarian districts of Rome, in Tor Pignatori, Prevestino, Alberone, Monte Sacro and Tufello. They appeared up to a point because of the wave of news and experience of auto-reductions coming from Milan but more because of the need to escape from the desperate situation of isolation and ghettoisation in districts of Rome. “I lived in Prevestino,” said Mario, “and in Prevestino there is nothing, nowhere to meet, not a bar, no cultural events, not one moment of joy, nothing. The neighbourhood is ruled over by the PCI and the youths of FUGCI who come up with the usual things, a film by Eisenstein once in a while telling us to re-appropriate culture and a “Unita” festival good only for singing some shit, dreadful shit, then back into their holes again, everything over for them. We don’t want this. We want to reclaim our lives, which in our district are miserable, mad, and unhappy. The neighbourhood denies life and society denies life and then the PCI comes up to you proposing a film and some sacrifices”.

Even if Rome University has suffered some explosive moments the phenomena of the Metropolitan Indians comes out of the experience of the neighbourhood and for the greatest part they are made up of sub-proletarians who aren’t even students and who aren’t potentially unemployed people but simply are real, actual unemployed people. “We went to the university”, Mario said, “by way of a species of spontaneous migration because the university is the only liberated space, the only free zone, the only point of reference. But that’s not because we have much to do with bourgeois students of the 1968 variety who demand the right to study. For us, the right to life comes first”.

Some students of the ’68 variety arrive. They sit at our table. They are similar to the youths of ’68 not only because they are bourgeois and children of good families but because they suffer, today as then, from a profound sense of inferiority. Then because of the working class, for people who had a history and a definite role. Today, because of the sub-proletariat who are unemployed who more than ever they have, have the right to feel marginalised.

It is a marked contrast, a difference underlined in the way they dress, how they move, how they speak, two worlds apart, separated by origins and social strata but united by a couple of common spectres: unemployment and the lack of a future. There is Maria, 23 years of age and studying architecture. She has a house that’s hers and she invites everyone around even the Indians who not only don’t have a house, they don’t even have a neighbourhood. There is Bruno, 25 years old, a student of literature, the only one in the assembled company to play out even physically the role of the intellectual whilst the others are unemployed and look it. Perhaps it will happen to him but no one would say it. There is Chiara, 23 years of age, also studying literature. She has read Nietzsche and the Existentialists and thus arrived by an intellectual route. To the Indians she is a snob.

In Maria’s house a group is formed comprising a little of everything. PDUP, Autonomia Operaia, Lotta Continua, the collectivi. “To be an Indian,” said Massimo, 21 years of age and a militant of Lotta Continua, “is to choose a compartment not a political line. Meaning to conceive politics as joy, liberation, fantasy, meaning to quit finally the mystique of a militant made of iron who no longer lives, no longer expresses himself, who is cooped up in a structure that’s so rigid that ideas no longer come to him. These people, these old militants well, we actually really cannot call them militants”.

“And for this reason” continues Domenico, 21 years old and a student of medicine, “I have never belonged to any organisation. Even if it is useful, an organisation ends up being like a mother. To say I belong to Avanguardia Operaia is to look for an illusory security, to cling onto apron strings, to have an identity. Because politics up to now signified renouncing one’s personality, forgetting one’s real needs love, sex, interpersonal relationships”.

So to reclaim life has become the slogan of the Metropolitan Indians. “To really succeed, said Fulvio “we have chosen the path of irony which in a world as serious as this is deadly. But above all we have upset the boundaries of any relations with the political: previously one left the public to arrive at the private, at least one searched to do so. But it is not a method that has produced much, leading people to paranoia, to schizophrenia. So today we are seeking to change ourselves because only in this way can we succeed in changing the people around us… and reality. The communists accuse us of wanting everything immediately but the truth is, we’ve never had anything”.

“It really is ridiculous,” maintains Bruno, “to accuse us of making irony the basis of our politics. For us irony is only an instrument, a means of recovering creativity, which up to now has been suffocated, the ideal way of demonstrating our refusal to be integrated, of annulling it. There is a great deal of confusion over this: the arena of creativity is not a ghetto in which there are some undergraduates, whilst politics is the work of others. Shouting at Lama, “sacrifice, sacrifice or “work more, pay less” is ironical but has a precise political significance” .

“The clashes with Lama and the confrontation with the PCI has unleashed all sorts of attacks against the Metropolitan Indians: a new fascism is mentioned, a parallel “squadrismo”. In reality we are not prejudiced against the unions and the Communist Party. That is not our counter-stance. But it becomes so when, by this route, normalisation proceeds. So amongst us unemployed and marginals no mediation is possible with the line the unions take. The unions are against us when they defend the employed juxtaposing them to the unemployed, big business juxtaposed to small businesses. The unions are against us the moment they renounce struggling to reduce the working day and accept overtime”.

“And on the matter of violence” said Massimo, “there has been a lot of confusion. We aren’t clockwork oranges. I don’t think I’m a theoretician of violence. However when I’m pushed about, I use it and I reply to violence. So it’s clear then on that Thursday we did not attack workers but a mass of party bureaucrats. So much so that workers who were in the university had rolled up their banners and hadn’t attacked us”.

Dawn is breaking. Fulvio falls asleep over his un-tuned guitar. Theo already very tired takes a spoonful of something from a big copper pot. Stefano knocks the bottom out of matchbox. Massimo says, “I dare say that after a week it will be all over and the movement will be institutionalised and reabsorbed. But these last few days have been a tremendous experience. And we want to believe in this because the alternative is going back to the neighbourhood and dying there”.

(An article in "L'Europeo"… and the date is lost!)