Lama Sabachthani

On February 17,1977, Luciano Lama, the Communist union leader entered the occupied Rome University to 'lecture' the Students. He was —none too gloriously— driven off the campus. This is an eye-witness account of the event which broke open the deep-rooted conflict between the "new left" and the Italian Communist Party.

It was the morning of Thursday February 17, 1977. The University campus had been occupied for over a week by students, the unemployed, the comrades. The tall, severe-looking buildings, with their Fascist architecture, had been transformed. The white facade of the Faculty of Letters was covered with slogans and writings.

One, which was vertical and many yards high, warned the capitalists and revisionists that they would be “burled by a burst of laughter". It was signed "Godere Operate’’ ("Workers' Joy") and "Godimento Studentesco" (Students’ Enjoyment)—a pun on the old Potere Operalo (‘Workers’ Power") and Movimento Studentesco ("Student Movement”). These writings were the work of the Metropolitan Indians, a non-organlsed cultural movement of young comrades, who turned their biting wit and sarcasm on the Government, the Communist Party, and even on revolutionary "leader-figures" who tried to assert their dominance over the mass. The quality of this new revolutionary movement was, in fact, that the mass refused to be led in the traditional style, from above. It was, to a great extent, self-directing and seif-organising.

During the days and nights of the occupation, the entire University seemed to be a continuous people’s party and people’s forum. There were continuing and endless debates in the various commissions (the counter-information commission the factory and community commission, the teaching-methods commission, the women’s commission). There were also the (often stormy) general assemblies, where the Movement decided its policies.

Ail the gates to the Campus ware guarded by comrades, who took it In turns, and everyone who entered was frisked and scrutinised, to guard against provocateurs.

The Government and the ICP decided to send Luciano Lama in.

The day before, the Movement's General Assembly had voted to allow Lama to come in, and to avoid physical violence, but to defeat him "politically" (l.e. drown him out by booing, ’whistling, etc).

Lama came in at about 9 am, on a truck which was to be his platform; it was equipped with a powerful loudspeaker system. He was accompanied by his 200 ICP heavies (with Trade Union "stewards" cards pinned to their jackets) and about 2,000 reps, and workers, hastily called to the University by the Unions, to “liberate It from the Fascists”.

In the large open area of the Campus where he was to speak, Lama found another platform already rigged up, with a dummy of himself on It (complete with his famous pipe). There was a big red cut-out of a Valentine's heart, with a slogan punning his name—"Nessuno L’Ama" (Lama Nobody ... or Nobody Loves Him).

Around this platform there was a band of Metropolitan Indians. As Lama started to speak, they began chanting: "Sacrifices, Sacrifices, We Want Sacrifices!" (a parody of the State’s economic policy upheld by the Communist Party). "Build us More Churches and Fewer Housesl" (Italy has more churches than any other European country, and a chronic housing shortage). "We demand to work harder and earn less!"

This Irony aggravated the humourless ICP heavies. About 10.000 comrades and students gathered. The Autonomists started to put on their masks.

It would be hard to say which side threw the first stone. Certainly there was pushing and shoving and exchanges of insults which lod up to It. Violence soon broke out. Bricks, stones and bottles flew through the air. Some Communist Party members received treatment (the non-ICP wounded could not go to hospital for
fear of arrest).

The vast majority of those present, both workers and students, did not take part in the fighting. They stood around in groups. I met some reps, from an engineering factory. One said that Lama was "asking for it".... He had come to the University to "pour water on the fire". Another rep. corrected him: "Not water—gas!" Other workers were complaining that the Unions had been very high-handed in ringing them up and telling them to come to the University, without any explanation or discussion. A cleaning lady, who worked at the University Teaching Hospital (a badly paid and overworked category; also an Autonomist stronghold) was heard to say: "They ought to shoot him in the mouth!"

A woman, a member of the Communist Party, told me: "These Autonomists really are Fascists—they have beaten up workers (l.e. ICP heavies), and that I can’t accept."

After an hour or so, Lama and the heavies retreated outside the University, and all the windows of his truck were smashed. Insults were exchanged over the railings, with each side calling the other “Fascists! Fasclstsl” (This Is a deadly insult on the Italian Left, and will usually start a fight).

During the afternoon, the riot-police moved Into the Campus, and cleared out all the occupiers—who left by a secondary entrance. About 1,000 Communist Party militants stood outside and clapped and cheered. The following day, a young ICP lecturer in sociology at the University remarked: "The police were right to clear the University. There weren't any real students in there, only hippies, queers and people from the slum-districts".

The operation was dubbed "Little Prague" by the students.

Posted By

Fozzie
Oct 2 2019 16:51

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  • As Lama started to speak, they began chanting: "Sacrifices, Sacrifices, We Want Sacrifices!" "Build us More Churches and Fewer Houses!" "We demand to work harder and earn less!"

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R Totale
Oct 2 2019 20:39

That is a top pun in the title.