18. Residual and emergent political forms

In the decade following the dramatic resurgence of social conflict in 1968, in Italy and in other Western capitalist countries, there was a spread and multiplication of oppositional movements. Alberto Melucci has listed the main examples:

(a) worker conflict involving new categories (semi-skilled, young and immigrant); (b) trade union conflicts extended to different occupational groups (especially in the tertiary and public sectors); (c) student movements; (d) urban struggles; (e) feminist movements; (f) youth counter-culture; (g) movements linked with sexuality; (h) regional movements; (i) ethnic conflicts; (j) consumer protest; (k) ecological movements; (k) neo-religious and communitarian movements; (m) anti-institutional protest (over justice, prisons, psychiatric hospitals); (n) struggles linked to the problems of health and medicine.

There are, of course, considerable differences between these forms of action, and they have specific histories, but in various ways they can all be related to the movements of ‘68-9. It was the students’ and workers’ movements which provided the models which other movements attempted to replicate, revise or break away from.

The significance of the ‘68 legacy can be seen in how the thoughts of a generation continually returned to it. The struggles of those years were recounted in epic terms; oral accounts were supplemented by auto- biographies, interviews, histories, anniversary editions and reprints which celebrated moments of heroism. The genre which can be called the ‘class struggle epic’ was recreated. The worker emerged as a mythical figure in the iconography of the period, and is the protagonist of a particular type of narrative.

A Ieitmotif of the epic is the protagonist’s struggle to transcend individualism, and the celebration of the moment of transcendence. It recurs especially in autobiographical accounts. Antonio Antonuzzo’s story about his ‘conversion’ to unionism is but one example of a phenomenon which was most pervasive in oral form. In the 1970s oral history developed to capture these memories for posterity, and to serve as a basis for reflection on the nature of subjectivities and experience. Above all, worker militants were encouraged to recount their personal histories. An interesting example of this is an interview with a Fiat worker, Franco Platania, recorded in 1974. The story starts with how Platania conducts a personal war with the company (how he outwits foremen and survives the hell of the production-line), and follows his adventures through to the Hot Autumn when, he declares, he changed utterly as a person:

At that moment my personal biography loses all interest as far as individual motivations are concerned. I joined a Communist organization, Lotta Continua. The important moments of my life tended to become one with the collective moments of struggle that were being shared by the whole working class of Fiat. I felt that every day, as I took on increased political responsibilities, I also took on new dimensions as a human being.

In this instance the epic struggles and the joining of a revolutionary organization are elided, but that is really a secondary element in a typical narrative. More important is the way in which the individual’s contingent and haphazard story is subsumed in the story of a class, which is also a future and a destiny.

The re-telling of ‘68 was an aspect of an important shift in political attitudes. It was necessary, in the wake of the social movements, to legitimate undertakings with reference to an active consensus formed in collective struggles, rather than with reference to institutional definitions of consensus, such as the parliamentary vote. Thus, within the unions, there was a continual evocation of the Hot Autumn, which represented a moment of rebirth. The struggles of ‘68-9 were, in other words, a fount of legitimacy, and a mythic renaissance for their protagonists. However, the struggles were interpreted in different and conflicting ways, and during the 1970s there was a process of reappraisal. It was said that ‘lessons had to be learnt’, and that the earlier movements had limited and even prevented the emergence of radically new forms of opposition. By the time of the tenth anniversary of 1968 the number of critical, and even dismissive, analyses had largely displaced the celebratory accounts. Another generation had grown up for whom ‘68 was a second-hand experience. From a vantage point in the 1980s it is possible to get a clearer picture of how the ‘68-9 movements left a contradictory legacy, which looked backwards into the past, as well as anticipating future developments.

With the benefit of hindsight, some useful, though necessarily cautious, distinctions can be made between the political and social projects which took shape in the 1970s. These can be broadly divided into ‘residual’ and ‘emergent’ forms. These terms are more ‘epochal’ than the categories of ‘movement’ and ‘institution’ so far referred to which are more adequate for the analysis of the shorter term developments. The former are useful in highlighting longer term historical shifts. Raymond Williams offers a useful definition:

By ‘residual’ I mean that some experiences, meanings and values, which cannot be verified or cannot be expressed in terms of the dominant culture, are nevertheless lived and practised on the basis of the residue - cultural as well as social - of some previous social formation. There is a real case of this in certain religious values .... A residual culture is usually at some distance from the effective dominant culture, but one has to recognise that, in real cultural activities, it may get incorporated into it … The pressures are real, but certain genuinely residual meanings and practices in some important cases survive. By ‘emergent’ I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new significances and experiences, are continually being created. But there is then a much earlier attempt to incorporate them, just because they are part - and not yet a defined part - of effective contemporary practice .... It may be true of some earlier phases of bourgeois society that there were some areas of experience . . . which it was prepared to assign as the sphere of private life .... But I am sure that . . . because of developments in the social character of labour, in the social character of communications, and in the social character of decision, it extends much further into certain hitherto resigned areas of experience .... thus, the effective decision, as to whether a practice is alternative or oppositional, is now made within a very much narrower scope .... This is usually the difference between individual and small-group solutions to social crisis and those solutions which properly belong to political and - ultimately revolutionary practice. But it is often a very narrow line .... A meaning or practice may be tolerated as a deviation, but as the necessary area of effective dominance extends, the same meanings and practices can be seen by the dominant culture, not merely as disregarding or despising it, but as challenging it.

Williams’s definitions are primarily made in reference to cultural practices, but they can equally be applied more generally. They parallel Touraine’s analyses of ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ social movements. Williams differs in putting more stress on how the ‘residual’ survives and can be reactivated, and he continually underlines the ambiguities and double-sidedness of attempts to counter the dominant order.

Marx’s remarks in The Eighteenth Brumaire about bourgeois revolutions give a complementary perspective in which political action and cultural practices fuse:

Men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted by the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, and in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such moments of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.

It is important to note that emergent and new movements can only struggle into existence by drawing on existing traditions. These provide not just easily disposable accoutrements, but the very languages with which to think about social change. At the same time, they impose limits, and make it difficult to communicate experiences for which adequate words do not seem to exist. However, although the new forms can only emerge by selecting, transforming and/or discarding the old, Marx writes that the residual forms can also be revived in ways that parody and that flee from reality, making ‘ghosts walk about again’. Indeed, it is Marx’s contention that only proletarian revolutions can ‘strip off all superstition in regard to the past’; for him they find their ‘poetry’ in the future. However, a century later, the neatness of this distinction between the ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeois’ revolution seems dubious in a way it might not have in Marx’s lifetime, as the experiences of ‘68-9 testify. The social movements of those years can be seen as comprising a rich mixture of residual and emergent forms which contained both ‘oppositional’ and ‘alternative’ practices. The student movement is an excellent example. It was a new phenomenon historically, and brought a new order of social conflicts into the open. As Alain Touraine has observed of the French situation:

the students are representative of all those who suffer more from social integration and cultural manipulation directed by the economic structures than from economic exploitation and material misery.

At the same time, the ideologists of student revolt were deeply influenced by the ideas of Marxism and, to a lesser extent, by radical religious thinking. The movement’s symbols were borrowed directly from the ‘ workers’ movement, as was the rhetoric of its leaders. The ‘residual’ forms played a significant role in reactivating protest, as has been seen in the case of the Marxist ‘heresies’ in the 1960s, but the revival of neo-Leninist organizations led to an impasse; the old residues not only were inadequate in the sort of analyses and politics they offered, but they actively resisted the emergence of new forms of social action. Whilst the social movement at its height combined different and often conflicting practices, when it went into decline it fragmented. Subsequently, some of the fragments, such as the neo-Leninist ones, tended to stand in the way of new movements, whilst others contributed to their formation.

It is perhaps possible schematically to distinguish between those forces or tendencies coming out of the late sixties which anticipated and stimulated a ‘movementist’ politics (emergent forms), and those which proposed organizational solutions (residual forms) to what they regarded as the failings of social movements. As will be seen, this polarization is too simple, there is no clear demarcation between the backward-looking and the forward-looking. History is not a linear development, a railway line connecting past and future. It is notable that what Touraine refers to as traditional forms (industrial militancy, for example) continued to dominate the shape of social conflict in the 1970s, and were themselves extended and realigned in novel ways. Nonetheless, the distinction is not purely an analytic convenience. The increasingly drastic and diverse reassessments of ‘68-9 in the following decades signalled a real polarization; basic assumptions were put into crisis. It was then no longer clear that the labour movement was the major progressive force nor was it clear what, if anything, was meant by the labels ‘the Left’ or ‘comrade’.

Indeed, the conflicts which emerged in terms of ‘movement versus organization/bureaucracy’ (itself a frame of reference typical of traditional politics), involved questions of precisely the legitimacy or value of a label- ling process, and hence of a political subculture’s whole vocabulary and sets of codes. The protagonists of a ‘movement’ politics did not merely propose a different answer to the question ‘how should opposition be organized?’, but asked new sets of questions concerning aspects of people’s lives which had previously been excluded from politics altogether. They introduced notions of autonomy and control which required social action of a kind incompatible with parties, unions and other organizational models.

The emergence of these new forms of social conflict is the central theme in the sections which follow. These will focus on youth protest and the feminist movement in Italy, since they have been widely seen as the most representative forms of what has been called a ‘post-political politics’. Rather than attempt to provide a detailed history or chronology of the formation of these movements, there will be something more akin to a brief outline of their development, which compares them with their fore- runners of the late sixties. The recurring question that will be asked is: to what extent were these movements a continuation of tendencies present in the mobilizations of ‘68-9 and to what extent did they represent a rupture with that past? This question entails looking at the Italian situation (an equivalent examination of the French, German or British case would tell a very different story), but raises the more epochal and general observations of Alain Touraine on the consequences of the transition from a pre- dominantly industrial to a post-industrial society. No answer can be given on this question without a thorough consideration of the changes in the political, social and economic structures of advanced capitalist societies (and this will not be attempted here), but it is possible to undertake the more limited task of seeing how social movements evolved over the seventies. Analysis will centre on how social actors worked with inherited models and adapted them to their needs.

Two chapters, therefore, deal with the youth and women’s movements (in that order), but the first chapter will take the case of red terrorism in Italy. This requires some explanation since terrorism (as will be made clear) cannot be considered a social movement. The intention is rather to look at the phenomenon in its early years as a residual form of politics. It, too, was a product of the political upheavals of the late sixties, and no account of the oppositional political developments following 1968-9 would be complete without an analysis of the role of terrorism.