On February 1st 1977 100 Fascists invaded the campus of Rome University. They shot at comrades who had gathered there to protest against Malfatti's anti-progressive education reform bill. Two people were wounded - one seriously, with a bullet in his head. The Faculty of Letters was occupied in protest.
The next day, thousands of students responded with a mass demonstration outside the branch office of the MSI (Italian neo-Fascist party) near Termini station. The police open fire with sub-machine guns. No Fascist had been arrested for the invasion of the University. One comrade was wounded by police cross-fire, and 4 comrades also were wounded (two seriously).
All across the country a wave of occupations begins in colleges and universities. The Rome University occupation was held by thousands of students and workers in precarious jobs. They were protesting against Malfatti's Bill, against the Fascist shootings etc. Slowly they were joined by other faculties up and down the country - Palermo, Bari, Milano; Turin, Venice, Bologna, Florence, Pisa, Cagliari and Naples. High-school students also mobilised in a show of strength not seen for some time. There is a sense of a mass movement, the first mass movement since the General Election of June 20th 1976. This movement is new in its creativity, its energy and its new forms.
UP AGAINST THE STATE AND THE CP
The Government chose to keep quiet - speaking only with the voice of the sub-machine gun! In fact Malfatti and Andreotti seemed to be waiting for the CP to act, to restore order. (In fact the CP has produced an Education Reform Bill which is not much different from Malfatti's - another reason why the students are so much against the CP). This was perhaps the first real test-bed of the CP's Law'n'Order capabilities.
The Communist Party publications attacked the University occupations. Order must be restored. The CP will not accept this new movement, but sets itself actively in opposition to it. There were, of course, a few dissident voices inside the CP, against this approach - but they were not the ones that won the day.
The Faculties were occupied; the whole walled campus was a "no-go area", with comrades standing at the gates, stopping and frisking all who entered; large student demonstrations were taking place (eg 20,000 marched in Rome on February 9th) ..... and the CP decided to act.
On February 15th a group of CP militants organised an "expedition" to the University, to "re-establish order” - a stupid, arrogant move, which was resisted by the students. The CP militants provoked a scuffle with the students guarding the occupied University gates. The comrades observe that, having failed to find a mass base in the University, the CP now returns to the tactics of Czechoslovak renown.
Two days later, February 17th, Mr Luciano Lama, a top Union boss and a member of the Communist Party, enters Rome University to "talk sense" to the students, accompanied by a couple of hundred CP strong-arm heavies and many shop stewards hastily summoned from the factories at the last minute to "defend the University which is occupied by Fascists."
A comrade who was present at the meeting has given this account:
MR LAMA GOES TO COLLEGE
It was the morning of Thursday February 17th 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. Huge colourful murals had been painted in several of the lecture halls, and there was a painting of Che Guevara on the outside of the Faculty of Medicine, entitled: "Che Guevara - Doctor". The white facade of the Faculty of Letters in particular was covered with all sorts of slogans and inventive writings. One, which was vertical and many yards high, warned the capitalists and revisionists that they would be "buried by a burst of laughter". It was signed "Godere Operaio" ("Workers' Joy") and II Godimento Studentesco" (Students' Enjoyment) - a pun on the old Potere Operaio ("Workers' Power") and Movimento Studentesco (" Student Movement"). These writings were the work of the Metropolitan Indians, a non-organised 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 self-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.
All the gates to the Campus were guarded by comrades, who took it in turns, and everyone who entered was frisked and scrutinised, to guard against provocateurs. Inside, there was a flowering of freedom of expression. Anyone who had anything to say wrote out a large-letter wall-poster - Chinese-style, and stuck it up on a wall. Others then wrote their comments on the poster itself, or put up a counter-poster. The walls themselves were covered with writings, some serious, some polemical, many just zany.
Fringe and experimental theatre groups came in and performed on the lawn in front of the Faculty of Letters. The women danced ring-a-roses, and many comrades from the South rediscovered their traditional dances ... tarantellas were danced, to the accompaniment of guitars and accordions, with a zest that was rarely seen even in their home towns. In particular the women, who were here freeing themselves from traditional patriarchal oppression by organising in sisterly feminist solidarity.
The Government and the CP decided that enough was enough. The University was made for studying and not for having fun or for conducting political struggle. So it was 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" (ie drown him out by booing, whistling etc).
Lama came in at about 9.00am, on a lorry which was to be his platform, and which was equipped with a powerful loudspeaker system. He was accompanied by his 200 CP heavies with Trade Union “stewards” cards pinned to their jackets) and about 2,000 shop stewards 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 Valentines 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!" "Build us More Churches and Fewer Houses!” (Italy has more churches than any other European country, and a chronic housing shortage). "We demand to work harder and earn less!"
This irony rather aggravated the humourless CP heavies. About 10,000 comrades and students gathered. The Autonomists started to put on their masks. Tension mounted.
It would be hard to say which side threw the first stone. Certainly there was pushing and shoving and exchanges of insults which led up to it. Violence soon broke out between the Autonomists on the one hand and the CP heavies on the other. Bricks, stones and bottles flew through the air.
At one point some CP heavies turned a fire extinguisher on the crowd. I saw a comrade with blood running down his head being led into the faculty of Letters for first aid. Some Communist Party members received treatment in hospital (the non-PCI wounded could not go to hospital for fear of arrest).
But the vast majority of those present, both workers and students, did not take part in the fighting. They stood around in groups, and discussed.
I met some shop stewards from an engineering factory. One said that Lama was basically 'asking for it' . He had come to the University provocatively, to 'pour water on the fire'. Another steward corrected him: 'Not water - petrol!' Other workers were complaining that the Unions had been very high-handed in just ringing them up and telling them to come to the University, without any explanation or discussion of the whys and wherefores. Comparison was also made with the way the Union leadership had concluded some recent negotiations (unfavourably for the workers). 'First they sign the agreement, and then hey expect us to approve it. They damn well ought to consult us first!' A middle-aged 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, they ought". A communist Party worker tried to tell her that violence was not the way to do things and a group of people clustered round them, joining in the argument.
A woman, a member of the Communist Party, told me: "The Autonomists really are Fascists - they have beaten workers (ie CP heavies), and that I can never accept." Another girl, who had taken her university degree three years before and had been unable to find any work other than a few temporary stand-in teaching jobs, was hopping mad - a CP heavy had just spat on her, calling her "Feminist ..... cock-sucking Autonomist".
After an hour or so, Lama and the CP heavies retreated outside the University, and all the windows of his lorry were smashed to little bits. The Autonomists ran after them, and then climbed up on the gates. Insults were exchanged over the railings, with each side calling the other: "Fascists! Fascists!" (This is a really deadly insult on the Italian Left, and will usually start a fight).
During the afternoon, then, the riot-police moved into the Campus, and cleared out all the occupiers - who left by a secondary entrance. As the police went in through the gates, about 1,000 Communist Party militants stood outside and clapped and cheered. The following day, I heard that a young CP lady lecturer in sociology at the University had remarked:
'I think the police were quite right to clear the University. After all, there weren’t' any real students in there, only hippies, queers and people from the slum-districts'.
The whole operation was dubbed "Little Prague" by the students. It revealed the repressive (and no longer reformist) face of PCI revisionism.
The gentlemen pictured here are not Daleks. They are Italian policemen dressed up in bullet-proof gear, protecting the central Headquarters of the Communist Party of Italy in Rome. We thought that a note about the Italian police would be appropriate at this point.
The Public Security (PS - Pubblica Sicurezza) are the ones dressed in twotone blue - dark blue jackets and light blue trousers. There are between 80,000-100,000 of them, stationed in barracks all over Italy in the 94 provincial capitals, as well as in the local Commissariats. They come under the Ministry of the Interior, and this means that on the local level they are under the command of the government-appointed Prefect, and not of the locally elected town council or Mayor.
They have riot battalions (all PS have to do a spell of duty in these), called "Celerinitl These were set up by the DC minister Scelba, who used them in the 1950s to shoot up landless peasants in the South who were trying to take over the land. The riot battalions carry a transparent plastic shield, Roman-style, with the word Polizia across it.
They are recruited mainly from poor families in the South. Recently they have been trying to organise in order to form a trade union, which at present is forbidden because they are legally a military corps.
The Carabinieri are more or less the same numbers as the PS. They wear black uniforms in winter and beige in summer, with a white bandolier across from the shoulder. Technically they are military police, under the Ministry of Defence. They are stationed in all villages and every borough in the cities, and are heavily screened for loyalty. On riot duty they don't use shields, but wear a long, heavy mitten on the left hand as a defensive/offensive weapon. Both PS and Carabinieri have been sent in against demos, or to clear out squatters etc - ie on openly repressive public duties.
Other police include the Finance Guards (finanzieri) under the Minister of Finance, the Forestry Corps (forestali), the Animal-Loving Guards(guardie zoofile!). All the above corps of police carry guns. At all times. Also there are the Traffic Police (vigili urbani) under command, ultimately, of the local mayor.
If you get lost in an Italian town, it is inadvisable to ask a policeman, because (a) he probably doesn't know, himself, having been born and bred somewhere else (the rulers wisely transfer them to other areas where it is unlikely they will wind up repressing relatives, old schoolmates etc), (b) it just isn't done, and c) he'll probably arrest you as a dangerous foreign agitator
MASS DEMO BY THE MOVEMENT
There were 2,000 police and carabinieri involved in the University eviction, using clubs and teargas. Dozens of comrades were injured in the process. At that moment, Rome University had the eyes of the world on it. Later in the day there was a huge meeting, where it was decided to hold a mass Demonstration the next day. Our account of the demo is translated from Lotta Continua, Feb.20th 1977.
ROME: A HUGE MARCH OF WORKERS, STUDENTS. WOMEN AND THE UNEMPLOYED. AGAINST THIS "GOVERNMENT BY ABSTENTION".
Rome. February 19th. Tens of thousands of comrades set off from Piazza Esedra, in broad, flowing ranks that number even more than the big march on February 9th.
The banner at the head of the march reads “No to the Abstentionist Government;" (so-called because the Government can only survive in Parliament because of the abstention of the Communist Party). The students march in formation behind the various Faculty-banners, or the banners of the very many high schools that are present.
Together with the regular slogans of the working class movement, others were heard: "They've kicked us out of the University, so now we’ll take over the City!" "pecchioli, Coasiga, Imbeciles!" (Pecchioli is a particularly reactionary GP leader, and Cossiga is Minister of the Interior) The real provocateur is the State machine" (the so-called "carpi separati" - separate bodies - like the army, the police and the State bureaucracy are supposed to be controlled by Parliament, but in fact are autonomous from it, and answer only to the centres of economic power).
The vast majority of the slogans are directed against the Government. On the pavements crowds of people stand watching the march. Thousands of leaflets are handed out, informing everyone of the decisions taken by the Assembly of students in struggle. The police must get out of the University! Let's prepare a national demonstration of students in struggle! Down with the Special Laws ... Down with the Andreotti Government!
The entrance to Via delle Botteghe Oscure, where the Communist Party national headquarters are, is heavily guarded by 200 riot police with bullet-proof jackets and helmets, and inside the CP building stands the entire heavy squad (servizio d'ordine) of the Communist Party.
The most frequently-shouted slogan of the march was for a national general strike against the "absentionist government".
The same issue of Lotta Continua discussed the role of the Communist Party in the events of Rome, and tried to put them into perspective.
THE STRENGTH IS THERE!
The stakes are very high. The Communist Party now wants to treat the whole of Italy in the same way it treated Reggio Calabria six years ago (when tanks and army troops were sent in to quell that town's rebellion, which was fascist-led, but motivated by the need for jobs). The CP wants to make out that the class opposition that is emerging, is a "manifestation of the neo- Fascism". (At the gates of the University they were lined up with the police, shouting: "Fascists, Blackshirts, Your place is in the Cemetery!" against the students).
They are quite out of their minds. They are meeting a mass movement head-on, with open provocation. There is more than one piece of evidence that they have gone off their heads, and have reached the point of doing and saying things that have never been said or done before. But their insane talk will have great difficulty finding an audience: this has already been shown in the factories , and even among the non-CP trade union officials, when the Party tried to put forward their shameful proposal for a "strike against the extremists“.
You could imagine that you're hearing the voice of the KGB thundering against the "dissent" movement in the USSR. Only this time what they are attacking is a mass movement, not just of students, but of thousands and thousands of young people who are jobless. This is a movement which is reacting with organisation and struggle, against a regime that is devastating our social life, and is forcing unemployment and poverty on us. And the CP Party says that we are MAD - because they have no other way of understanding anyone who opposes the Social Contract regime, who resists that attack wages and the level of unemployment.
This Government - and everybody knows it - is an Andreotti-Berlingeur Government - the Communist Party and the Christian Democrat party . And where the CP in this?
Lama no longer goes to speak at workers' meetings, for the simple reason that he's now more at home meeting with Dr Carli and the Christian Democrat ministers. Lama no longer makes speeches to the students - but only against the students. Anyway, they're not even speeches - they're punitive expeditions, with all the regular trimmings of the CP's goon squad tactics an unprecedented provocations, so that they can hand us over to the police and to a blood-sucking Government .
And the CP is also supporting the moves on the Special laws on Public Order. Let's spell it out. They want to outlaw any organised opposition to this regime. They want to destroy even further the ravaged fabric of democratic freedoms. The Government has just announced an "anti-terrorist decree" so-called, which gives the forces of law and order unprecedented powers against the organisations of the revolutionary Left and against the mass organisations in the struggle. It is this situation that we must now face - and we can be sure that the same rigorous sanctions won't be enforced against the Fascists!
LETTER TO COSSIGA
After the events at Rome University. Minister of the Interior Cossiga appeared on Television to say that he would be stepping up the repression against the new movement. The Metropolitan Indians wrote a letter to Cossiga. To take up his·war like language. We translate it from Lotta Continua Feb.22nd 1977.
Dear Big Chief Paleface Minister.
Hail Paleface of Teutonic design. How happy we were to see you on the Magic Box. Your forked tongue hissed wondrously; and your metallic voice spat Poison on the human tribe. You said:
"We are telling these gentlemen that we will not allow the University to become a hide-out for Metropolitan Indians, freaks and hippies. We are determined to use what they call the forms of repression and what I call the democratic forms of law and order."
We continued to stare in silence at the Magic Box. Our silence contained all the Hatred that the human tribe can muster against your Vile Brood, all the Hatred that hundreds of thousands of young people from the ghettoes of the inhuman Metropolis will howl against a Monstrous Society that tells us to swallow our suffering.
But "swallow your suffering" are words that only exist in your language, in your putrid social relations, in your eyes that are lifeless and without humanity.
No, Minister Kossiga, we will never "swallow"
BECAUSE OUR WILL TO LIVE IS STRONGER THAN YOUR THIRST FOR DEATH. BECAUSE, IN THE BRIGHT COLOURS OF OUR WARPAINT WE WEAR THE RED OF THE BLOOD OF HUNDREDS OF COMRADES, OF YOUNG PEOPLE MURDERED IN THE STREETS BY YOUR "DEMOCRATIC" LAW AND ORDER, MURDERED BY HEROIN IN THE DESPERATION OF THE GHETTOES, AND MURDERED AT POLICE ROAD-BLOCKS JUST BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T HAVE A LICENCE FOR A MOPED!
You have built the Reservation for us, and now you want to chase us back into it, into the ghettoes of marginalisation and despair. No more is this possible! Because it is precisely out of the ghettoes that our Rebellion has exploded. Today Human Beings have found themselves again. have found their strength, their joy of collective living, their anger. and their thirst for communism.
Your police-goons, dressed up like Martians, have chased us out of the University. They thought they could smash our dream, our desire to transform ourselves and transform the world. But you have not understood. Your Tin Brains can only think up hunger, repression, violence, special laws and death. You have not understood that you will Never Again be able to destroy us. Because our anger and our imagination howl more loudly than your thirst for vengeance!
Minister Kossiga, we accept your Declaration of War so that the battle may be turned into a War for the total defeat of your Vile Brood.
As long as the grass grows on the Earth, as long as the Sun warms our bodies, as long as the Water bathes us and the Wind blows through our hair, WE WILL NEVER AGAIN BURY THE TOMAHAWK OF WAR!
The Metropolitan Indians of North Rome