10. Dreaming of a cultural revolution

The student movement's critiques of the educational system, for its exclusivist and hierarchical structures of access and control, extended beyond the institutions themselves. The movement had always insisted that schooling was not so much a means of changing society as of legitimating existing inequalities, and that therefore the forms of knowledge that it passed on to students were partial and limiting. Instead, it proposed a strategy of 'education through struggle' that connected the different spheres of society through a political movement. As has been seen, students of medicine at the State University in Milan linked their struggles over course contents and teaching methods to the organization of health in society. Architecture students related their studies to the politics of housing, and the movement at the Catholic University questioned the role of the Church in supporting the status quo. The student movement created an acute awareness of how knowledge and skills were socially constructed and transmitted, and how they were made to serve class interests in the hands of the doctor, engineer or teacher. Students, moreover, represented a pole of attraction for those involved in cultural production.

Pierre Bourdieu has commented interestingly on the role of youth within modern European culture:

It is clear that the primacy the field of cultural production gives to youth can, once again, be traced back to the basis of the field in the rejection of power and of the 'economy'. The reason why 'intellectuals' and artists always tend to align themselves with 'youth' in their manner of dress and in their whole bodily hexis is that, in representations as in reality, the opposition between the 'old' and the 'young' is homologous with the opposition between power and 'bourgeois' seriousness on the one hand, and indifference to power or money and the 'intellectual' refusal of the 'spirit of seriousness', on the other hand. The 'bourgeois' world' view, which measures age by power or by the corresponding relation to power, endorses this opposition when it identifies the 'intellectual' with the young 'bourgeois' by virtue of their common status as dominated fractions of the dominant group, from whom money and power are temporarily withheld.

This observation does not perhaps apply to all intellectuals and artists in the wake of 1968; Pasolini for example had little time for the student rebels. But at a European level it is possible to see cultural alignments crystallizing out along these lines. This was particularly apparent in France, a country in which intellectuals were historically prominent in revolutionary upheavals, but in Italy too, film-makers and others rallied around the forces of opposition to the status quo. The idea of cultural revolution galvanized the left-wing intelligentsia.

The cultural challenge represented by the student movement was central to the development of a counter-culture in the 1970s. In every Italian city (and perhaps more so in Milan than elsewhere) bookshops, cultural centres, political centres, bars and eating places testified to the existence of a world separate from and in conflict with the dominant urban institutions. Its boundaries were often marked out by graffiti. But the cultural revolution also penetrated the practices of those working within the dominant institutions, especially the professions. As will be seen, it was an experience which was both positive and negative. In the 1970s the contradictions of the 1968-9 years were lived out in the cultural and intellectual field.

Counter-Information

The idea of counter-information has a long history which antedates the student movement. It was at the heart of struggles for freedoms of speech and opinion which in Italy were closely associated with the radical wing of the movement for national unification. Then the workers' movement from the time of the early Socialist Party put great energy into producing party, union and other papers. The movements of 1968-9 revived the campaigning spirit of more heroic times. But counter-information was seen as more significant and was more self-consciously undertaken than at any time since the Resistance. (The word controinformazione itself was coined in the late sixties.) The new importance of the mass media in society was highlighted by its role in representing contemporary conflicts, whilst the student movement led the way in exposing and counteracting their disinformation (disinformazione ).

The student movement was hostile to the national press. Students read the papers voraciously to see what was happening in the world (it was a period of dramatic advances by the North Vietnamese, of street insurrections in Paris and so on), and also to read accounts of events in which they themselves had participated. They were, therefore, unusually media-conscious and aware of how they themselves and the movements with which they identified were being reported. They were in a position to make 'oppositional readings' of the newspapers not only on the basis of ideological positions, but through personal experience and oral accounts of demonstrations and occupations. The formation of a collective identity through the movement created a heightened sensibility as to how that identity was represented by the dominant groups. Thus the reports in the Corriere della Sera, which spoke of the students as 'Chinese' (cinesi) and which constructed a stereotype of the movement activists as alien and threatening, provoked anger, scorn and, on one occasion, petrol-bombs. At the information centres in the universities there were boards with the day's press cuttings concerning the movement, where students wrote up their opinions and comments.

Two of the movements' graffiti about the press give an insight into its critique of the mass media. Firstly, some writing on a Milanese wall explained: 'The difference between balls and pillocks is as follows: the balls are written by the Corriere and it's the pillocks that read and believe it.' A second piece of graffiti examined the difference between two papers: 'For a falsely objective version read the Giorno, and for an objectively false one read the Corriere'. These comments are interesting for their very format and style. They are sprayed on to the wall for all to see, and address the passer-by directly and succinctly. They involve the reader in a little puzzle or play with sexual swear-words in ways that make the reader appear cleverer than the pretentious readership of the Corriere. Then, because they are memorable, the graffiti are likely to be copied and recounted. As for their message, these graffiti spell out the movement's total opposition to the press. It does not call for fairer reportage or more objectivity, but seeks to destroy the myth of objectivity and disinterestedness.

The movement attacked what it regarded as the inevitable disinformation coming from papers like La Stampa, owned by Fiat and other corporations. These were thought to black-out news or to distort and manipulate information according to the needs of the owners and the capitalist class in general. This power resulted from economic leverage (the ownership of the means of communication), and from the servility of the journalists, the 'bosses' lackeys' (servi del padrone). This model of media manipulation fitted with the complementary notion of false consciousness, and with the Marcusean analysis of the 'one-dimensional society', according to which consensus was achieved by the ruling class through its control and manipulation of various private and state apparatuses, (for example, the Church, the media and educational institutions). Symptomatically, Marcuse's book One-Dimensional Man, published in 1967, sold 150,000 copies within a year.

This model of total social control from above did not, however, induce a sense of pessimism or hopelessness among its promulgators in the movement. Rather, it heightened awareness that every aspect of life was affected by cultural domination, and of the need 'to get rid of the policeman in our heads' (eliminiamo il poliziotto che e' nel nostro cervello), as one slogan put it. The movement's responses set the agenda for the creation of communicative strategies from below in the following decade. These can be considered under two headings: counter-information and counter-culture.

The counter-information developed by the movement ranged from individual, improvised acts to more collective and long-term action. The most common forms of counter-information used the walls of the city and the roneo machine to communicate messages. Graffiti appeared everywhere; a survey carried out in 1969 in the university and polytechnic areas of Milan counted 868 examples; in the hottest months of student revolt, the signposts near the university had to be replaced every fortnight because of graffiti; in January 1971 the prefect of Milan called for action against graffiti, which according to a municipal estimate, totalled thirty one thousand in number. The graffiti about the press, which have already been mentioned, were perhaps more subtle than the majority of examples, but even the crudest and simplest ones expressed the desire to have a say. Instead of passively reading the publicity in the underground trains and stations, young passengers added their own 'bubbles' with comments, carrying on a conversation in graffiti with a previous wall-writer. The roneoed leaflet was another form of counter-information developed in 1968, which had a democratizing potential in that it was cheap and easily produced, though it seems that often the sheer ease of reproduction resulted in overkill.

The leaflets dazibao, slogans and graffiti of the movement enabled the collective and individual expression of feelings and opinions on a massive scale. However, it was the weekly newspaper which became the preferred vehicle for the movement's propaganda. It represented a more durable challenge and the first step in the construction of an alternative circuit of information to that constituted by the national press. The most successful of these was Lotta Continua, which first came out in November 1969, but it was joined by Il Manifesto and others at local and national levels. They were the organs of the extraparliamentary political groups which were mostly formed in 1969.

Their most important campaign of counter-information concerned the events of late December 1969 - the Piazza Fontana bombing, the so-called suicide of Pinelli, and the witch-hunt that put Pietro Valpreda behind bars. Whilst the Corriere della Sera and the national press blamed the anarchists and the Left for the terrorism and supported police action against them, Lotta Continua in particular played a crucial role in telling a different story. A group of journalists wrote a book called The State Massacre (La Strage di Stato) in which they exposed the fascist nature of the bombing, and the connections between its perpetrators and high state officials. A remarkable feat of investigative journalism, selling over 100,000 copies in two years, it established the importance of the development of alternative sources of information, and hence of papers written from within the movement. It set in motion grassroots investigations in factories, schools and neighbourhoods into local Fascists, whose names were then published in papers and leaflets.

Radical journalists working within the commercial press were also encouraged to investigate corruption and the abuse of power. They organized the Committee Against Repression to defend freedom of opinion when editors of the minority press were charged under the surviving articles of the Fascist penal code, which included the 'crime of opinion' (reato d'opinione) and 'criminal incitement' (instigazione a delinquere). In a country in which the press had been traditionally tied to the interests of the state and to political parties, the growth of radical journalism under the impact of the new counter-information campaigns was an important change.

The growth of counter-information was not without its negative aspects. The tactics of exposure and denunciation sometimes bordered on symbolic lynching in which moral outrage was whipped up at the expense of rational criticism and understanding. The hounding of the police chief thought (erroneously) to be responsible for Pinelli's death is a case in point, while aspects of Red Brigades' propaganda fit this model, and an instrumental Zdanovite conception of cultural action gained an unfortunate ascendancy within much of the extraparliamentary Left. However, counter-information also gave a fillip to the critical study of the media which Umberto Eco pioneered in Italy. His Towards a Semiotic Guerilla Warfare, published in 1967, anticipated developments, while his institute at the University of Bologna produced a number of studies concerned with critiques of the dominant media and the means of developing alternatives.

Refounding a Popular Culture: The Case of Radical Theatre

The campaign in the defence of Pietro Valpreda, lasted several years, saw some inspired acts or counter-information, including the adoption of the prisoner as a parliamentary candidate. A memorable song told the story of Pinelli's death and the tragic episode was the subject of Dario Po's play Accidental Death of an Anarchist. In this period, counter-information linked up with the development of a wider counter-culture based on the movements of opposition. Playwrights, actors and actresses, film-makers, cartoonists and others channelled their energies into political work. In the light of the student movements critiques or the traditional role of the artist and intellectual, their commitment was not restricted to signing petitions and fund-raising. Goltredo Fofi outlined their new role within the movement;

no cultural revolution is possible without a direct relationship with the masses, and the only real relationship is through political militancy, even it today this must be mainly an individual connection with particular struggles given that there does not as yet exist a party to unify the different activities.

The new role can be seen at its most creative in the theatre of Dario Fo. Dario Fo and Franca Rame had been performing an experimental theatre which dealt with political issues since the early 1900s; on one occasion Fo was even challenged to a duel by an artillery officer for slighting the honour of the Italian army, and he was also arrested in Siena for abusing President Johnson in a play. However, they were working within traditional theatre and therefore to privileged middle-class audiences. In 1968 they decided to leave it 'because', writes Franca Rame, 'we had realized that, despite the hostility or a few, obtuse reactionaries, the upper middle class reacted to our "spankings" almost with pleasure'. The mass movements of 1968-9 put their political integrity in question. According to Franca Rame:

You are allowed to mock authority, but if you do it from the outside, you will burn. This is what we understood. In order to feel at one with our political commitment, it was no longer enough to consider ourselves democratic, left-wing artists full of sympathy for the working class and the exploited ... The lesson came to us directly from the extraordinary struggles of working people, from the young people's fight against authoritarianism and injustice in the schools, and from their struggle for a new culture and relationship with the exploited classes ... We had to place ourselves entirely at the service of the exploited, and to become their minstrels.

The decision to take theatre to the workers and make it part of the movements of opposition meant changing that theatre. Firstly, the plays had to be performed wherever people met socially; to begin with, the locations were workers' clubs, bowling alleys, occupied factories, suburban cinemas, and only rarely theatres. In their first year they performed to over 200,000 spectators, of whom 70 per cent had never previously seen a play. Secondly, the plays were written and performed as political interventions. (And they were very much the product of collective decisionmaking, even if Fo was the charismatic leader.) This was the case with Accidental Death of an Anarchist, put on in Milan during the trial of Lotta Continua for its part in blaming the chief-of-police for Pinelli's death. But many other performances were adapted to take account of the particular local struggles. Thirdly, Dario Fo and his company, Il Comune, developed a special relationship to the audience. During performances of the plays, which were mainly farces, the audience was invited to participate as in an English pantomime, and afterwards there were discussions about the issues being dealt with. Moreover, the takings would often be contributed to solidarity campaigns and strike funds.

The work of Dario Fo and Il Comune was especially important because it represented a developed cultural politics - a cultural politics which predominated in the social movements in the first half of the 1970s. It was not merely an example of agitprop theatre used as a tactic; it was an expression of a more ambitious project of refounding a popular culture. Fo himself was an exceptionally brilliant and lucid spokesman for a conception of theatre and art which Il Comune attempted to enact through its performances. Speaking at an event in France, he outlined the origins and history of popular theatrical forms. For Fo, the heyday of popular theatre was during the Middle Ages (in Paris in the fifteenth century, he told his audience, there was one juggler to sixty inhabitants), and it was this tradition which provided the raw materials for the reconstruction of a living theatre. This popular theatre had, according to Fo, been killed off by the bourgeoisie and the problem was to undermine bourgeois artistic norms in their turn. Brecht had argued along similar lines, said Fo:

You always go back to Brecht; he explained it well, but it's a little difficult to understand. He said that you must always act in the third person, escape from individualism and egoism... be someone who is on the outside, and who presents the person as a chorus. The comedian must destroy the figure of the comedian himself, and then recompose it in front of the spectators.

But Fo argued that epic theatre was not Brecht's invention; it was part of popular tradition which needed to be resurrected:

Really to understand epic theatre, it is enough to see the people. The people always hold to a different ideology from the bourgeoisie. There is a collective spirit: we talk about ourselves, our problems, the problems of the community. We aim to create a community like the community of the theatre in the Middle Ages .... You must act with the public, listen to its rhythms, improvise . . . you must change at the drop of a hat, cut, and alter your timing.

In the Middle Ages, according to Fo, 'the people's culture' was autonomous from that of their rulers, and this is what modern theatre has to recreate - an autonomous culture. The intellectuals' task was to help rediscover popular history, language and culture, and to free it of 'bourgeois baubles'. To make his case, Dario Fo refers to Mao Tse-tung's and Gramsci`s ideas, thereby claiming legitimacy for his theories within the Communist tradition. Yet it is Rabelais who inspires him:

When Rabelais speaks French he carries out an operation which has been lost to us. He takes up several expressions from dialects and enriches his own language, thereby making something un-bourgeois. He sought to make a sort of lexical revolution, and that's an example we must follow.

But more often Fo refers directly to contemporary events as a source of ideas and a context for creating a new set of relations with the audience, giving back to 'the people' what he has learnt from them:

I feel myself part of the people, and when I'm going to write a play, I go to the people, not to flatter but to learn .... When the movement calls us because there is a trial, we turn up the day beforehand and reconstruct the event. I play the judge, the lawyer plays the lawyer, the workers play the workers, some comrades play the police, and the show is on. And when the real spectacle is on - that's to say the moment of judgement - there are some cracking jokes because the public understands the hypocrisy of power.

The test of this idea of theatre was measured by its capacity to generate audience involvement, and its power to entertain and educate at the same time. This was a test in which Il Comune and Fo triumphantly succeeded. What is more problematic is whether this theatre contributed to a transformation of the cultural situation over a longer term. The role of Fo's theatre can be compared to the role played by don Milani in providing a critique of the dominant culture and a model for a popular culture. Although they belong to different worlds -don Milani to a Catholic world and Fo to a secular, socialist tradition - there are close parallels in their work. Both see 'the people' as the creators of language, which the rulers then formalise, suck dry and use as an instrument of domination (in the shape of the bourgeois school or theatre). The people use words in a simple, concrete and direct way which describes reality truthfully and with beauty, but they are made to distrust their own sensibilities by cultured elites. Those that work the soil or work in the factories are somehow closer to Nature (to the 'nature of things') than those who rule over them, and the rhythms of their labour resonate in the deeper structural movements of the culture, which, however, are hidden from them by the cleverness and artifice of those who do no work. Popular culture is without boundaries (or rather it is potentially universal) because it springs out of everyday life, whilst Culture with a capital 'C' is closed within the walls of museums and theatres or within library tomes. As the originators of language and the 'rooted' members of society, the ordinary people bear within them the traces of earlier cultures; they have a history which makes the history of the ruling group into the fabrication of parvenus. All these elements, (albeit with different stresses and combinations), underpin Dario Fo's and don Milani's visions of how to change the order of things. Whilst it gave them great strengths, it also entailed severe weaknesses.

The strengths can be seen in the degree of influence exercised by the work of don Milani and Dario Fo within the social movements, and in the mobilizing qualities of the ideas of popular creativity, autonomy and self- activity. Labour was invested with dignity and culture was divested of mystique. A widespread desire by factory workers and others to have their say brought the sound of unheard voices into a cultural world built on their exclusion. The ideas of popular culture celebrated not the enfranchisement of the masses and their inclusion within the formal domain of the cultural (the schools, universities, and so on), but the destruction of the frontiers of knowledge policed by academics, doctors, lawyers and politicians. They envisaged the return of distinctively cultural practices to the fields and workplaces, and the re-establishment of a new harmony of head and hand. It was a utopian vision of considerable appeal, which went beyond the immediate situation. It drew on a rich vein of radicalism in Western European culture, which can be identified in writers as various as Rousseau, Marx and Bergson.

The weaknesses of this project of cultural revolution are intertwined with its strengths. Its appeal to myths inspired enthusiasm by providing epic narratives for class struggle in culture. But the evocation of a golden age and of an image of a pure popular culture served also to limit and even stultify cultural innovation. Just as the notions of reliving the Bolshevik or Chinese Cultural Revolutions blinded activists to social changes and complexities, so myths of a past popular culture made it difficult to work within a contemporary environment.

The particular predilection for myths is clearly manifested in the fascination for China. China acted as a sort of spiritual homeland for a generation which could no longer believe in the USSR. Much of the young Italian intelligentsia of the period greatly admired the Chinese Cultural Revolution; China represented a model of how intellectuals could work with and among the people (the students who worked in the fields whilst the peasants studied; the 'barefoot doctor'; the poet or painter whose art 'served the people'). At the same time, Chinese culture was presented as the combination of popular wisdom and a sophisticated but simple Marxism. Brecht's poems, inspired by Chinese subjects and the writings of Lu Hsun, became enormously popular. Above all, there was an image of Chinese people as hard-working but happy. Intellectuals who travelled there (especially women, it seems), wrote about this:

In China there are no signs of alienation, nervous disorders or of the fragmentation within the individual that you find in consumer society. The world of the Chinese is compact, integrated and absolutely whole.

What is significant, of course, is not what this tells us about China, but what it tells us about the writers and readers of this literature. Umberto Melotti draws attention to the historical precedents:

It is worth recalling how this mythology of 'Socialist China' has emerged historically. In many respects, it is reminiscent of the eighteenth-century mythology of 'good and just government in China`, which was spread on the basis of similarly insufficient evidence among the enlightenment philosophers and men of letters.

The Chinese myth was believed in by those who wanted to create a simple, humane egalitarian society in the place of the divided and competitive society in which they lived. It made it possible to criticize the existing order of things with reference to an ideal just as Montesquieu, Rousseau, and others had done in the past. However, the dream of a unified popular culture was backward-looking. It harked back to Communist and Socialist traditions at a time when they no longer connected up with the everyday experience of the majority of people. The ideal of a class-based, autonomous culture did not help make sense of a situation of cultural diversification in which identities were constructed across classes and across national frontiers. The Chinese myth was more a throw-back to a golden age than a future-oriented utopia.

The idea of remaking a popular culture entailed celebrating older technologies and the close relationship between producer, product and consumer which they realized (Fo's theatre was typical in this respect). This was regarded as authentic by contrast with the mass culture produced by the modern media which, however, had effectively marginaized older cultural forms. This New Left, like the traditional Left, dismissed mass culture as part of the capitalist 'consciousness-industry'. There were intellectuals who took a more critical view and refused the either/or choice between being apocalyptic or conformist (to borrow the terms of Eco's famous study Apocalittici e integrati) in their attitude to mass culture. Apart from Eco himself, Francesco Alberoni stressed the way mass culture promoted change, rather than simply confirming the status quo. However, their rationalism and cosmopolitan outlook was marginalised in the wake of the movements. Far more representative of the general rejection of 'mass culture' and espousal of 'popular culture' was the charismatic figure of Pier Paolo Pasolini. Through his writing, films and journalism, Pasolini gave passionate expression to his disgust for consumer society and all its works.

However, whereas Pasolini's vision was fundamentally at odds with the imposition of any kind of uniformity, for the most part the search for a 'genuine' popular culture was strangely provincial and backward-looking. When cultural exchanges across frontiers were multiplying as never before, and when the plurality of signs and images defied simple categorizations according to class origin, there was a longing for cultural purity - for the 'compact, integrated society' in which community appeared as a simple, organic set of relations between people. The disorder of the city was rejected in the name of an ideal, organic society which was rural in its inspiration. It was utopian, therefore, in the pejorative sense, because it attempted to deny the complexity, diversity and conflict of modern societies. Moreover, it conjured up a relationship between intellectuals and 'the masses' which was untenable.

A Culture of Guilt

The student movement of '68 did not by itself produce a radicalization within the professions and the development of an extensive counter-culture, its impact must be taken in conjunction with that of the workers' movement, and its importance needs to be understood as symbolic.' '68' is used here as a shorthand way of referring to all the various radical currents which surfaced in the late sixties and early seventies. It is a term which covers a considerable range of strategies for change - a range which resulted from the reactivation of older civil-libertarian as well as the creation of new forms of resistance. '68 brought into the open a plurality of politico-cultural positions, and marked a break with the clear demarcations into 'camps' that had been inherited from the Cold War period. lf the old alignments were still visible, they were now criss-crossed by differences within both the Communist and Catholic 'worlds'. Moreover, a radicalism which was more typical of the United States was beginning to get a foothold in Italian society, as the development of a sexual politics in the early seventies was to show. However, it was not until the mid seventies that the richness and diversity of cultural changes became fully visible.

In many respects, the cultural changes immediately following on from the social movements were not as innovative as they seemed at the time. Or, rather, there was a widespread misrecognition of what was 'old' and what was 'new'. The first stirrings of a post-'68 feminism and youth politics (which are dealt with at greater length in part IV) were frequently ignored or regarded as a sixties hangover, whilst the rediscovery of Marxism was seen as something quite novel. A description of the rebirth of Marxism written by Perry Anderson in I974 sums up a perspective common to the New Left in Western Europe:

The advent of a new period in the workers' movement, bringing to an end the long class pause that divided theory from practice, is now however visible .... The chance of a revolutionary circuit between Marxist theory and mass practice, looped through real struggles of the industrial working class, has now become steadily greater. The consequences of such a reunification of theory and practice would be to transform Marxism itself - recreating conditions which, in their own time, produced the founders of historical materialism.

It was a perspective which recapitulated the historical model. All the heresies of the New Left, from the Trotskyisms, which were stronger in France and Britain, to the Marxist-Leninisms which dominated in Italy, proclaimed that the moment had come for the refounding of the Communist project and the establishment of a new and fruitful relationship between theory and practice, between intellectuals and masses.

How the relationship between Marxist intellectuals and the working class was to be changed was a matter for debate. There was no uniform position. But it Italy, where the Chinese model of cultural revolution was so influential, there was little space for the intellectual mandarin. As has been seen in relation to the student movement, populist evocations of 'mass practice' tended to prevail over theoretical concerns. Discourses were above all moral.

A number of positive consequences flowed from this orientation. Intellectuals and professional people turned their backs on the privileges and status accorded to them in society, and sought to redefine their roles in terms of social cooperation among equals rather than of competition between individuals and corporate interests. They sought to undermine the culture which exalted mental labour and despised those who worked with their hands. However, the search for what Goffredo Fofi called a 'direct relationship with the masses' was a contradictory phenomenon with some decidedly negative features. It was caught between a desire to lose a class identity and yet to preserve the intellectual's special mission in society.

The contradiction in the left-wing intellectual's self-image following '68 is interestingly dealt with by Richard Sennett in relation to Jean-Paul Sartre. Although the analysis focuses on him, it deals interestingly with the relationship of culture and radical politics:

What then is the role of the intellectual gauchiste? Gerassi asks Sartre and the philosopher gives a peculiar answer. The only writing worth doing, he says, is the political tract, because the position of the intellectual has changed: 'He must now write with the masses, and through them, and therefore put his technical knowledge at their disposal. In other words, his privileged status is over. Today it is sheer bad faith, hence counter-revolutionary, for the intellectual to dwell on his own problems.' Sartre now believed the intellectual must sacrifice himself for the workers; 'he must be dedicated to work for their problems, not his own.

When asked why he had just finished a two-thousand-page book on Flaubert, Sartre accused himself of 'petty-bourgeois escapism'. And when asked about his support for a Cuban poet imprisoned for counter-revolution, he explained that all genuinely revolutionary governments honour creative freedom. He contradicted himself. Sennett comments:

In his guilty confusion, Sartre shows himself to share two assumptions about workers .... First, that the man of culture - the poet, philosopher, social visionary - inhabits a world that cannot be assimilated to the realities of working-class life. Sartre apologises for thinking about Flaubert. He respects the work workers do, indeed he idolises it; he is afraid he will alienate them by his work. Yet at the same time he is afraid his work is innately privileged and may have rights against the revolution... culture and the masses, if not necessarily enemies, have at best few interests in common .... Second the basis of rebellion is still a calculation of material interest. Material hardship caused by the system makes people rebel, material reward makes them defend . . . [he]does not really believe that the aphorism, Man lives not by bread alone, applies to workers.

In the post-1968 period in Italy the idea of cultural revolution was heavily impregnated with the attitudes implicit in Sartre's answers. Intellectuals did indeed 'sacrifice themselves for the workers', and the political tract became the privileged vehicle for cultural and political writings. They felt anxious about bourgeois and signs of individualism. Intellectuals wanted to abolish themselves as a caste and to become honorary members the working class which they sought to serve. When in 1973 the 150-Hours Scheme was established, giving workers the right to study-leave, it was welcomed as a chance to do just this:

The presence of the working class and its struggles has really made itself felt. lf until now it only affected a few more class-conscious intellectuals, now there is a refusal to delegate even in this sphere, (i.e. the workers are taking over education themselves). The struggles are also invading the cultural field and transforming interpretations of reality into a social need to be put alongside other needs (housing, services, etc.).

The intellectual, in the old sense, would be replaced by a new 'collective intellectual' combining the 'Intellectuals, technicians and workers'. This vision of the transcendence of divisions of mental and manual labour appears to subvert the Sartrean dichotomy. However, the initial l50-hours courses reproduced it in another guise. The project of creating a 'working-class culture, and criticizing culture 'from a workers' point of view' was approached in such a way that courses dealt almost exclusively with the factory. The preferred themes included health hazards, the labour process and trade union history. In other words, worker-students did not study philosophy, literature. languages or other subjects which were usually regarded as Culture with a capital 'C'. Those organizing the courses (the trade unions, teachers and political activists) either assumed that workers would not be interested, or that they would be alienated by such things. Instead, they applied their operaist version of materialism to return the workers 'in theory' to the factories they had escaped from for a few hours, while the l50-hours courses were often useful to political militants and factory delegates, they often did not respond to the needs and secret desires of the majority. Instead of liberating workers from the thrall of intellectuals, the scheme in its initial years fulfilled the fantasies of operaist theorists rather than those of the operai and operaie themselves. The old divisions between the educators and the uneducated were far from abolished.

This narrow materialist conception of culture infected not just those working in education, but artists, writers and filrn-makers who associated themselves with the social movements. Notions of 'political relevance' pressed down on them, and it became difficult to do work without an explicit political theme. Content was considered all-important and form was treated as secondary - indeed, formal experimentation was regarded with suspicion. It was thought that the workers would not understand or like cultural products which were 'difficult'. Intellectuals and artists should, in other words, give up self-indulgence and the preoccupations of their subculture and class, and put themselves at the service of the masses who did not want to read Dante or see Godard films. Both the bourgeois culture learnt at the liceo, and the culture of the avant garde were to be rejected in the name of 'cultural revolution'.

In a survey of cultural production in the wake of '68-9, Luigi Manconi describes the period from 1967 to 1974 as the 'dark years', whilst there was some ferment in the fields of music, theatre, poetry, reviews and publishing, there was little of significance produced; the results of work in photography, cinema and the novel were 'undoubtedly modest':

The reasons for this: the years 1967-9 effectively represented an unprecedented break with the previous thirty years in terms of ideologies and culture. And this was a good thing; but it also drained the expressive energies of the future generations for a five-year period. From this resulted a condition of 'memory-lack' for a whole stratum of young people, especially in relation to their own historical/social identity .... Moreover, the culture industry was hostile to innovation.

This explanation for the cultural poverty of the '68 generation is not adequate, however. It is necessary to show how a certain conception of politics and of the relationship between intellectuals and the working class paralysed or hampered creative activity. Whilst someone of the independence and inventiveness of Dario Fo could still work well, a younger generation found itself merely imitating him. Above all, it was caught in the impossible contradiction of Sartre's position. Intellectuals felt that they only had a right to exist in so far as they were being useful, and usefulness was defined narrowly. Cultural practices had to produce political messages. Pedagogic modes prevailed, and a moral universe was created with its good and bad characters. Thus, Goffredo Fofi, who was an important critic and spokesperson on the cultural politics of the Left, wrote a book on Italian cinema in 1971 in which he judged film-makers according to a grid of political correctness. The cinema journal which he edited, Ombre Rosse, actually ceased to talk about films and dealt instead with directly political issues. This was symptomatic of the way in which the specificity of the cultural was reduced in this period to a notion of class struggle which allowed little space for fiction. Whether in film or writing, a narrow realist interpretation of 'documentary' held sway.

The 'dark years', however, hid undercurrents within Italian cultural life which were to break the surface in the mid seventies. The Sartrean position was extremely fragile. Manconi has written that behind the screen of the 'monoculture' many 'cultivated their own secret vices in clandestinity' or sought to infiltrate them into the dominant political discourses. When the hold of the narrow notions of the political was put in crisis (the so-called 'crisis of militancy'), it was through appeals to those things which had been sacrificed in the past - personal and private life, poetic and literary forms, notions of creativity. Furthermore, it was discovered that the young workers, who were said not to be interested in such things but only in working conditions and factory struggles, were much more attracted to the world of youth subcultures and, in the case of women, to the feminist movement, than to the extraparliamentary Left. Whilst '68 did represent a break within Italian culture, its full implications did not become apparent before the emergency of the new social movements in the 1970s.

Looking back over the 1970s it is possible to offer a tentative evaluation of the cultural changes brought about by or through the social movements which dominated the horizons of a generation. Goffredo Fofi has commented that it was a decade in which there were lively experiments, but that many opportunities were lost and that little of lasting cultural significance was produced. The revival of cultural activities in the mid seventies and the proliferation of small publishers gave rise to

a production which was very immediate, tied to the ideas of the moment and lacking in reflection ... it was partly a pursuit of fashion and partly a response to real needs.

The lack of a major film or written piece should be explained in terms of the preference for producing the ephemeral (whether in the shape of radio, music or theatre):

The 'cultural product' of the movement was directed towards the immediate. It sprang from the desire for direct participation in making culture ... so that the result was fragmentary, uneven, instantaneous, inconclusive and without respect for canons governing writing or performance.

While this approach to cultural life and activity had its moments of genuine innovation (as in Dario Fo's theatre), it was vitiated by assumptions about the relationship of culture to class politics and the role of the intellectual or artist in this relationship. This weakness in the foundations of the counter-cultural project has made it an easy target for the critical attack by members of the cultural establishment, and has led to its abandonment by many of its leading proponents. But whether this crisis and re-evaluation leads to important contributions in the future by the generations of the '68 and '77 movements in the scientific and cultural fields, as Fofi hypothesises, is an open question.

Radicalization within the Professions

The concept of 'cultural revolution' was important in post '68 oppositional politics in Italy because it stood for total change. It embodied the aspiration to transform daily life in all its aspect, so that politics was no longer separated from ordinary decision-making. Some of the strategies for making a cultural revolution centred on the construction of alternative and oppositional areas; creating counter-information and popular culture were both projects designed to autonomise the production and consumption of cultural goods from the laws and ideas of the market. They were, above all, extra-institutional. However, other strategies involved the 'long march through the institutions'. They entailed taking the struggles of 'outside society' inside the corridors, courtrooms and classrooms of the powerful. This other aspect of the cultural revolution was especially significant for radicals working within the professions.

The movements of 1968-9 swept the professions into the political fray. Doctors, lawyers and teachers as well as journalists and film-makers were drawn into the social conflicts, and new conflicts erupted within their ranks. Not that they had previously been detached from politics. On the contrary, different tendencies jockeyed for power in their representative bodies. The Left had its advocates, even though they had none of the influence of groups like the Freemasons. However, the movements not only aggravated existing divisions, they created new ones by questioning the privileges, lifestyles and mystiques cultivated in the professions. They attacked the professional ideologies (for example the journalists's concept of impartiality or new values), which the traditional Left had by and large respected.

The new wave of radicalism driven on by the student movement was radical in a root-and-branch sense. It reiterated themes with a longer history such as secularising calls for the use of vernacular and the elimination of mystifying rites and rituals. But it framed these in a new way; for example, in terms of the abolition of the hierarchies of mental and manual labour. There was the emergence of a new conception of the relationship between intellectuals and the 'the masses' which was founded on particular competencies. As Michel Foucault has written:

A new mode of 'connection between theory and practice' has been established. Intellectuals have become accustomed to working not in the character of the 'universal' and the 'exemplary' ... but in specific sectors where they are situated by their professional conditions of work or their conditions of life ... And yet I believe they have become closer to the proletariat for two reasons: because it has been a matter of real, material, everyday struggles and because they often came up against the same adversary, even though in a different form.

This change in the role of the intellectual can be seen in a number of fields. Most obviously, radicalized teachers in schools and universities found themselves having to work in new ways not only with students, but with parents and in the community. A massive number of ex-students went into the profession in the early 1970s (the education system above all produced teachers) and took with them the ideas which they had fought for in the movement. The profession which, more than any other, had had the historical mission of creating generations of loyal Italians was joined by an army of subversives with very different intentions. But other professions were similarly if less dramatically affected.

Radical doctors, for example, played a vital role in struggles over health and safety at work. They put their specialized knowledge at the disposition of workers who were already defining health as a psychic and social as well as physical condition. Then in the mid 1970s doctors participated in and supported the campaign for abortion. The women's movement, by developing a politics of the body, made medicine a key arena of social conflict, and had far more profound implications for how medicine was conceived as a system of knowledge and power than any previous movement. But this was also an aspect of the fact that medicine had become a crucial metaphor for the exercise of power in modern capitalist societies. The conflicts over the control of the body and over definitions of normality and deviancy suddenly grew in importance. The struggles of the 1960s such as those over psychiatry (which in Italy were associated with the work of Giovanni Jervis) were merely the anticipation of this.

However, this section will focus on the battles in the legal profession. Law Students, like medical students, were traditionally conservative in their lifestyle and politics. They were almost exclusively from middle-class backgrounds, and a large percentage had fathers in the profession. They were, in other words figli di papa - though rarely his daughters. Nonetheless, law students too were active in the movement (though it should be noted that a large number opposed it). At the State University of Milan they occupied the faculty, and were responsible for the kidnapping (sequestro) of a law professor, who was put on trial for his allegedly reactionary behaviour. At both the Catholic and State Universities, law lecturers broke ranks and supported student occupations. As the mock celebration of the beginning of the legal year in 1969 showed, the pomp and circumstance of the law did not go unquestioned. On the contrary, the law was in the eye of the political storms of 1968-9. To understand this development, it is worth putting it briefly into historical context. More so than in many countries, the legal system of the Italian state was an object of suspicion rather than veneration for wide sections of the population. Liberal-progressive intellectuals looked back to Beccaria to ground their arguments against the persistence of Fascist penal codes, while popular antagonism to the law and its representatives could draw on a rich store of sayings and proverbs. There were divisions within the paese legale, but above all there was the divide between the paese legale and the paese reale. The events of 1968-9 brought these divisions into the open.

The clashes between students and workers and the police were also clashes between different conceptions of law and order. Implicitly, the former made recourse to notions of 'natural justice' as embodied in the popular maxim of the time: 'It is right to rebel' (E giusto ribellarsi), or even to justifications for revolt based on the rights of the poor to steal rather than suffer hunger contained in Catholic theology. On the other side, the police were given the task of upholding the law, although in 1968-9 this frequently involved administering punishment in the street. In other words, mass social conflict brought the question of the law out of the court-room and into the piazza; and, vice versa, the passions and disputes of the streets were taken into the seats of judgement. The law did not stand above conflicts, but was invested by them. Indeed, the drama of social conflict in 1968 was marked by the trial of leading militants.

It is an important feature of social movements that they seek to right wrongs in society as a whole. The idea of injustice is intimately bound up with how the social contract is defined, as much informally as formally. The ordinary subject is also a legislator and never more so than when participating in a social movement. Nonetheless, a movement has to face the law as an institution which imposes codes and practices. movements in brief, need lawyers.

The necessity of using the law as well as fighting against it was made apparent in 1968-9 when charges were brought against tens of thousands of students and workers who had been involved in demonstrations, occupations and strikes. Lawyers were required to defend them, and to block attempts by employers and other to have certain forms of protest declared illegal. By the end of 1969 the 'campaign against repression' (as it was called) became a political priority. After the Piazza Fontana bombing there were widespread fears that civil liberties would be suspended and that the conditions would be prepared for a coup d'etat (see chapter 15). It was recognised that there were laws which had to be defended and extended so that the conditions favourable to political activity could be created. There were, therefore, ambiguities in the attitude of the social movements towards the law as an institution. It appeared, on the one hand, as an instrument of capitalist rule, and on the other as civil rights. Whilst the radical lawyer or magistrate could only function because of the second conception, this was not automatically the assumption which informed his or her way of working. In fact, two organizations - Soccorso Rosso and Magistratura Democratica - were set up in the early 1970s which expressed the different political approaches to the problem. It was a difference with far-reaching implications.

Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid) was an organisation of professional people (lawyers, doctors and others) who gave their time and specialised skills to help victims of repression and oppression. Its name, which was the same as that of an organisation founded in 1922 by the Third International to aid victims of reaction, points to its general political alignment. Although Soccorso Rosso combined different outlooks (much more so than a political party), it was primarily oriented towards using the law in whatever way possible to defend the factory militant or political activists. It did not concern itself with changing the law nor with campaigning around civil rights as a general political issue. Such an approach was regarded as basically reformist. The legal system could, it was thought, only be changed by exposing it as the embodiment of class rule. The defence of the individual offered the opportunity to denounce class injustice. The only real justice was popular justice carried out in the class war. A number of activists in Soccorso Rosso saw their role as 'serving the people' in two senses; firstly, as the partial, limited and, in the long term, inconsequential defence of the accused; and secondly, in the construction of a 'people's justice', which entailed making the accused into the accuser. Between bourgeois justice and proletarian justice there could be no meeting point. The idea of the law as independent from politics was a fiction which could only be unmasked by openly subordinating it to politics with the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Magistratura Democratica (Democratic Magistrature) represented an approach which Soccorso Rosso deemed reformist. It was an organisation within the legal profession which sought change through and in the institutional. It meant making the law, as an institution, more responsive to the interests and the values expressed by the social movements. In other words, the law had to be brought closer to the needs and aspirations of the paese reale and, therefore, detached from its associations with the ruling order. Magistratura Democratica organized a current of opinion which encouraged a more liberal interpretation of the law, and which canvassed legal reform. Among its successes can be counted the implementation of the 1970 Labour charter; whilst in the postwar period managements had enjoyed legal advantages and cooperation from judges, in the 1970s the legislation was successfully used by unions to protect workers rights. More generally, Magistratura Democratica played an important part in arguing the case for civil rights in the mid to late 1970s, when they came increasingly under attack from both Left and Right. It argued, moreover, that the law as an autonomous institution was a necessary part of any strategy for radical social transformation of the state if it was not to end up in totalitarianism.

The experience of radicals working in the law in the years following 1968 seem to bear out Foucault's general observation about the changed role of intellectuals: namely, that they had more to gain and more to offer in the struggle against the dominant power structures in so far as they worked radically in their specific situations. It can perhaps be judged one of the more positive aspects of the cultural revolution. The influence of radical teachers, lawyers, doctors, social workers and others increased knowledge and awareness of the new complexities and forms of power within society.

The idea of cultural revolution inspired by Chinese examples went into eclipse by the mid-1970s. The notions of popular culture, of the relationship of intellectuals to masses, and of what a utopian society would look like, had become barriers to understanding an action. It would be wrong, however, simply to dismiss them as irrelevant. The negative and guilt-creating experiences, as well as those which were positive and liberating, taught activists a great deal. The answers proposed along Chinese lines resulted in a moralistic and dogmatic cultural politics, but the questions raised about how to change society remained crucial.