14. Policeman Passamonti

Some people in Italy (including the Red Brigades and the Armed Proletarian Nuclei) believe that the time has come for armed struggle (eg the RB slogan about "carrying the attack to the heart of the State".) There are a growing number of (hotly debated) incidents in which Left-wing forces have made use of firearms.

The political discussion of these tactics came to a head after the events of April 21st in Rome, when the policeman Passamonti was killed.

A General Assembly of the students at Rome University had met to demand expulsion of the police who had been patrolling the campus since February. The Rector, with PCI backing, called in the police against the students (See the account on page 9). Our account of the events of that day is taken from Lotta Continua, p.12, 23rd April 1977.

1.30pm: A few dozen comrades are on the University campus, waiting for the other students to arrive, for the mass meeting which is scheduled for 4.00pm. Unknown to them the Rector has called the police in.

2.30pm: Without any warning the police enter from the university gate in Viale Regina Margherita. The cops are behind armoured cars, which advance at walking speed. They pass in front of the Law Faculty. They evict people from there. Then they head towards the Letters Faculty, where about 150 comrades are grouped. As they advance, the police fire the first teargas grenades from about 50 yards distance. At this point the students head for the exit in Via De'Lollis (on the opposite side). Here they stop for about 10 minutes while the police enter the Faculty of Letters.

3.00pm: The students regroup in Piazza dei Sanniti, right by the University.
Meanwhile some comrades build a barricade with 3 city buses, at the crossroads between Via De'Lollis and Via dei Marrucini, so as to guarantee themselves a retreat towards San Lorenzo (See Map, page 68). Other comrades start to arrive. They gather together and discuss what is to be done. Two small groups set off through the streets of the neighbourhood to inform the population of the police action at the University.

3.30pm: The comrades now number about 500. They decide to return to the gate in Via De'Lollis. There they face the police, who are lined up inside the campus, about 50 yards back from the gate.

After a few minutes the police fire off a volley of hundreds of teargas grenades against the comrades, at chest height. The comrades respond with a
hail of stones. Many cops are now firing their pistols at the comrades. Two paper-bombs hurtle over in the police direction. The teargas has made the air unbreathable. You can't see a thing, tile smoke is so thick.

By now there is shooting from both sides. An American journalist who was filming the scene with her crew, from behind police lines, is shot in the leg.

4.30pm approx: At the Via De'Lollis gate, the comrades have grown in number. There are about a thousand of them. About 300 comrades have moved to Piazzale Del Verano, where, after a few baton-charges by the Carabinieri, they are dispersed. The other comrades move away from the gate in Via De'Lollis, because the teargas, the smoke and the shooting make it impractical to stay there.

They move to the cross-roads between Via De'Lollis and Via Dei Marrucini. Other students are also arriving here, some having been pushed in this direction by the riot police. All the comrades gather round the barricades that had been built at 3 o'clock.

The police advance and pass beyond the 3-bus barricade. At the same time the comrades are forced to retreat towards Via Tiburtina, and to form another barricade with a bus at the junction between Via Dei Marrucini and Via Tiburtina. The police go back to the first barricade in order to reorganise, and, sheltering behind it, they continue to fire teargas grenades against the comrades.

There is a lull that lasts for about a quarter of an hour. Most of the comrades remain behind the barricade, while a hundred or so advance towards the police, drawing close towards the first barricade, which is now protecting the police.

Some Molotov cocktails are hurled against the buses. At this point the police come out from both sides of the barricade, firing teargas grenades and pistols.

The group of comrades who had advanced on the first barricade beat a hasty retreat. Some go back to the other barricade. Others stop behind parked cars on both sides of Via Dei Marrucini. From one of the groups sheltering behind a parked car, pistol shots are fired against the advancing platoon of police.
Two policemen are felled. Other comrades sheltering behind the cars hear the shots, but do not realise what has happened.

Then the police fire becomes hellish and these comrades also run back to where the other comrades are grouped. There are about a thousand comrades gathered there, completely in the dark about the fact that a cop has been killed.

Since it has started raining teargas grenades again, by the hundred, and continual firing is heard, these comrades retreat into Via Dei Sardi. Only when the shooting stops and the smoke lifts do the comrades realise that so many pistol shots have been fired, because the walls are pock-marked by bullet-holes. Meanwhile the police retreat, clearing away the first barricade, back to Piazzale delle Scienze.

The comrades see that the police have retreated. They return to the crossroads of Via Dei Marrucini and Via De'Lollis. Here they see the blood on the ground. They realise that something very serious has happened.

Only a little while later does the news arrive that a policeman has been killed. The comrades do not know what to do. They are very disorientated. They don't know quite how it happened. There are discussions to try and reconstruct the sequence of events.

The police are standing at Piazzale delle Scienze, and do not look as if they are about to make a move. The comrades are all clustered in groups, talking. Someone goes round with a megaphone asking everyone to regroup at the Architecture Faculty (in another part of the City), where a mass meeting will be held.

At the Architecture Faculty meeting, a lot of the discussion hinged on the question of armed struggle. The following editorial from Lotta Continua (the day after) arised one of the positions

DANGERS INSIDE THE MOVEMENT
Lotta Continua Editorial: April 23rd 1977.

The Rome students' mass meeting on Thursday evening showed that once again we are at a crossroads. Either the movement is able to defend itself, giving itself effective decision-making bodies, to defend and enforce its own decisions primarily among its own participants, or it will head towards a split along its various political lines and components, and also towards a loss of its mass character, into regression and defeat ...More than by police repression the movement is threatened by its own weakness and by its internal contradictions.

This is why this problem must be given top priority in the movement's internal discussions at this time.

We must stress that the Government wanted to provoke the students, by hurling police, machine guns and armoured cars against the occupied Faculties, without even seeking a pretext. We must also stress (although this is no longer sufficient) the incredible behaviour of this Rector, calling in the police ( ... ) and turning himself into a political hack, or a puppet of hacks, a yes-man of the parties, who give him orders by phone.

( ...)

All this is secondary in the discussion inside the movement. For a very simple reason. Because the biggest danger to the movement is not that of being destroyed by its enemies, but of destroying itself.

The movement is being driven towards its self-destruction today by the theorisation of “armed struggle now", by the search for "higher levels" of struggle, by the constant contempt for the mass of comrades, as we see in the way these theories are translated into practice, in the mass meetings, in the demonstrations and in the streets.

It is possible to assert the movement's right to mass self-defence only on condition that the movement has the ability to defeat (and this means in practice, not only in discussions) positions inside itself which are adventurist and suicidal.

Thousands of young people have been in the forefront of the struggles of the last few months, and have reaped some very rich experiences. The issue now is to let these experiences bear fruit. We must prevent the line of those who think that Thursday's events represent the "necessary level" of the struggle, prevent it from obtaining the effect that (so far) neither the government or the revisionists have been able to obtain: namely, the suffocation of the mass initiative of the students which, over the last few days, has seen a fresh upsurge in towns all over Italy.