April 7: Repression in Italy - CARI

The following analysis of the April 7 operation was written by the New York Committee Against Repression in Italy (CARI).

On April 7, 1979 the police arrested about 20 people claiming that they were “dangerous terrorists” and charging one of them, Toni Negri, with being the “secret leader” of the Red Brigades. Those arrested were neither underground terrorists caught red-handed in the act nor were they found in secret hideouts with compromising documents. All the defendants have been openly active for many years in the political movement of the extra-parliamentary left and comprise most of the department of Political Science at the University of Padua as well as the editorial staff of two radical magazines.

The accusations are extremely serious and some carry sentences of up to life imprisonment. Here is a summary of the official charges; nine of the defendants face accusations such as “conspiring to form and participate in armed groups,” carrying “insurrection against the State” as well as “being responsible for the organization and leadership of the Red Brigades.” Furthermore, all the defendants are accused of “subversion” for having organized and led a group called “Potere Operaio” (dissolved in 1973!) as well as other groups related to “Autonomia Operaia.”


Despite the gravity of the charges, the arrests were made without any factual incriminating evidence. The accusations were mainly based upon the writings of the defendants, who have been primarily charged for their political ideas. Other “evidence” consists of telephone tapes, secret witnesses and informants. For example, the major “evidence’ linking Negri and the journalist Nicotri with the Moro kidnapping is alleged phone conversations between the two defendants and members of the Moro family. Nocotri was eventually freed on July 7, after 3 months in jail. As for Negri, voice-print analysis conducted both in Italy and at the University of Michigan cleared him entirely of the charge. The Italian press, so insistent on the telephone accusation, hardly mentioned the results of the voiceprint analysis reached in July 1979. Toni Negri is still in prison.

Of utmost concern is the violation of the defendant’s right to construct their legal defense. The prosecutor has imprisoned and isolated them (without bail), and only then has he attempted to construct his case. This is a dangerous precedent (reminiscent of the West German Kontaktverbot) for it makes it impossible for the defense lawyers to defend their clients against vague general charges, supported only by contradictory “evidence.”

As La Repubblica states, concerning the arrest warrant of Negri, it is “10 pages without any proof.” What Calogero, the prosecutor, claims to be “evidence” against Negri simply refers to his ideas and writings which have been openly sold in bookstores for years. Thus, under the pretence of defending democracy, the prosecutor has actually swept away the last vestiges of the individual’s legal rights, beginning with freedom of expression.


The Italian State, which has retained the criminal laws of the fascist period (i.e., the Codice Rocco, which makes it possible to convict someone for having “dangerous” opinions) has reinforced its fascist inheritance by instituting the “Legge Reale” in 1975. This is a body of laws, purportedly against terrorism, which severely curtails personal freedom giving the police the right to shoot individuals without any legal consequences. In the referendum of 1978, the Christian Democrats (CD) and the Communist Party (ICP) joined forces to support the “Legge Reale.” This coalition was a blatant attempt to muzzle the new emerging social movements.

In Italy there is no bail procedure and a defendant can be kept in jail for up to 2 years before being tried. In the case of Negri and the others, where charges are serious, preventive detention is allowed for up to 4 years. Further, if the defence is unsuccessful, they must remain in jail for 2 years before their appeal; then, if they lose that appeal after 2 more years, they can go before the Supreme Court.

The deep crisis within the Italian political system enables the leading parties (the CD and ICP coalition) to look for “scapegoats,” thereby diverting attention from the real problems. The ICP after its Historical Compromise with the Christian Democrats, has been encountering increasing disillusionment within its rank and file, evidenced by a record collapse in membership and heavy losses in the past administrative elections. In response, the party has labeled dissidents as either terrorists or fascists. Thus, it is not a coincidence that Calogero, the prosecutor in the recent wave of events, is a ICP member. The Communist Party has willingly paraded itself as the main defender of law and order to gain respectability.

The extra-parliamentary left is strongest among the social strata which has traditionally supported the communists. It was reinforced by the ICP’s decision to ally itself with the Christian Democrats and thus become a part of the State apparatus.


The ICP, as well as the Christian Democrats, are confronted with widespread social discontent that has been intensified by the stiff economic measures instituted in the ’70’s in the name of the energy crisis (layoffs, rampant inflation, etc.). Not only have the workers refused to accept the call for “restraint and sacrifice,” but in the midst of the crisis a mass women’s movement has exploded, while more recently in 1977 a new student movement has swept both the schools and the universities.

The ICP and the Christian Democrats blame the problems of the Italian society on “terrorism” instead of admitting that the crisis is a result of broad social problems. Hence, the attempt to “criminalize” the extra-parliamentary left Movement. The search for “terrorists” has been aimed at those groups and activists who have theorized on the new social phenomena. In particular, the members of Autonomy, a loose network of groups, publications, radios, etc. According to the prosecutor, Autonomy is a breeding-ground of terrorists. He claims that Autonomy and the Red Brigades are one and the same. Repeatedly, in their writings, Toni Negri, Oreste Scalzone and the others have severly criticized the actions and political positions of the Red Brigades, whom they have accused of bypassing the Movement and dispossessing it of its real strength: mass mobilization instead of individual acts of terrorism.

Massimo Cacciari, an ICP member of the Italian Parliament, who is familiar with Negri’s writings has concluded: “Nothing would lead one to an even theoretical connection with the Red Brigades.” He continues: “What is happening is the planned victimization of an entire political Movement, that of Autonomy, which can have serious consequences if the attempt is not circumscribed.”

Caccari is not an isolated voice. Many scholars and intellectuals as well as various political and cultural organizations have protested these arrests. Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, Jean-Paul Sartre as well as other members of the French intellectual community have made public statements demanding the immediate release of the political prisoners.


Seven months after the arrests, the magistrates still refuse to produce any direct factual evidence for their case. In the words of Padua Prosecutor Calogero: “To imagine that an investigation of this type may quickly and directly arrive at some facts and evidence makes no sense. . . .the relation between a leader of a structure like Autonomy is hardly ever with a crime, but with the organization” (L'Espresso, July 15, 1979).

In Italy no evidence is needed to put somebody in jail, the sheer suspicion of crime is already a crime. Italy has never excelled in its respect for political liberties (the last ten years offer an uninterrupted example of hush-up political scandals and frame-ups) never has the State so explicitly upheld its disengagement from the legislature. Some jurists refer to the difference between the case of Autonomy and the case built in 1969 against the anarchist Valpreda, accused at the time of bombing the Piazza Fontana (Valpreda spent four years in jail before it was ‘discovered’ that the fascists were responsible for this crime).

While Nocotri was being released, a new blitz has taken place in Padua, where the magistrates have issued fifteen judiciary communications for “formation” or “participation in armed band.”


Among the people who have received the judiciary communication for “participation in armed band” are Ferruccio Gambino and Maria Rosa Dalla Costa, two of the only three teachers from the Padua Institute for Political Science who have not been arrested. Ferruccio Gambino teaches sociology at the Institute since 1970. Maria Rosa Dalla Costa is a widely known feminist, who for years has worked in the “Wages For Housework” movement and is the author of many feminist texts, including The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community. ‘I can only understand this judiciary communication as an attack on feminism. . . It is the last act of a witch-hunt launched since April 7 against the Institute where I work, as well as against many brothers and sisters, in the attempt to criminalize our contribution to scientific research and the political debate. As far as I am concerned, it is clear that this time the target is “Wages for Housework,” for all that this strategy implies in terms of the struggles for autonomy, more money and less work, that women have made.” Dalla Costa to II Manifesto (13/7/79).

Alisa del Re, also openly active in the Women’s Movement has been incriminated and investigated by the judges for “terrorist activities”— a clear proof that the scope of the April 7 operation goes beyond and has more ambitious aims than an attack on Autonomy.

Alisa del Re is the author of Beyond Housework. When she was arrested she was ill and her health has deteriorated. So far every attempt to obtain her release on account of her health has been frustrated. Del Re has been subjected to a harsh jail discipline.

Her interview to L’Europeo illustrates the type of “evidence” on which the judges have so far based the charges, and the type of treatment which is reserved for women in Italian jails. Del Re explains that the “evidence” produced by the police is a map found in her possession marked with some locations which were targets of the Red Brigades.

“As far as the topographic map of Padua is concerned ... it was seized by the police in a raid on my house in March 77 ... I was interrogated in June 77 and stated it belonged to my husband. He had used it in July 73 when he substituted for a doctor in Padua. Since he didn’t know the town, he marked on the map the streets of his patients. The funniest thing is that they connected this map with actions made in October 77 . . . Moreover, on the map are marked about 180 streets.

The actions that correspond to the marks on the map are 2 or 3. As for the treatment I was given the day I was arrested and afterwards, I have the impression I had been condemned to death... With suspected pneumonia I was brought to the Venice jail on a motor boat. Seven days after, I was brought to Trieste and thrown in to a damp and cold cell (the Trieste jail does not have an infirmary).

After 15 days of continuous requests, I managed to get an X-ray confirming pneumonia in the right lung... In the view of the treatment I have received, it is an accident I have survived.”


The zeal of the magistrates has reached the point of raising suspicions even against the Socialist Party (ISP). The attempt to involve the ISP has centered around the initiatives it took during the Moro kidnapping. At that time, in the spring of 78, the ISP was the core of the “party of negotiation” (i.e. those who were in favor of dealing with the Red Brigades) and some of their members met some Autonomy people, beginning with Franco Piperno, to consult on possible steps to be taken in the attempt to save Moro's life. These meetings, now, one year later, have raised the suspicion of the magistrates, who have hinted that the ISP supports Autonomy and may even have contacts with the Red Brigades. Since accusing an institutional party is a more difficult operation than jailing some militants, the magistrates have conducted their attacks on the ISP from behind the scenes, often relying on the help of the press and a well-calculated use of hints and rumors. The magistrates are presumably investigating whether the ISP protected Piperno while he was underground. It is also hinted that the ISP financed the research center CERPET (founded by Piperno) and therefore indirectly the magazine Metropoli. Finally, evidence of the “suspicious relation” between the ISP and Autonomy would be the fact that Piperno teaches physics at the University of Calabria in Arcacavata, whose director is Giacomo Mancini, a high ranking member of the ISP.


Meanwhile, the magistrates and the police have done their best to build the image of Piperno as a dangerous criminal. The most “brilliant” operation against Piperno was the one organized on August 17, 1979. In the late afternoon, a man arrived at the Viareggio railroad station on the Rome-Turino train. Two men on the train shouted to a transit police agent “he has gone down that way.” The agent ran after the man shooting, but the man, shooting as well, escaped in a car. The Italian police declared that the man was Piperno, and that he was armed and dangerous. The newspapers headlined Piperno as an “armed bandit.” The incident would have been the best evidence of his “connection with the armed struggle.” Unfortunately Piperno was arrested a few hours later in a Paris cafe by Interpol. He had been recognized by a vacationing member of the ICP. The party has gone a long way into transforming its members into alternative police. A warrant of arrest with 46 charges ranging from the Moro killing to traffic violations, was sent by the Rome judges to the French magistrate, in order to justify the request for extradition.

More than 1,500 political prisoners are presently being held in Italy. In September, 1979, an appeal was signed by a large number of Italian intellectuals around and within the ICP. It includes Bernardo Bertolucci, Masimo Cacciari, Umberto Eco, Alberto Moraria, Leonardo Sciascia and Mario Tronti. The Appeal demands an immediate trial of the accused in order to put an end to the spiral of ambiguity and defamation fuelled by the media.