The Emergence of the Groups

Section five of chapter five of "Storming Heaven".

Submitted by Fozzie on August 30, 2023

For the workerists, a prime example of how not to construct the new revolutionary organisation would be provided by the Unione dei Comunisti Italiani (Union of Italian Communists), for a brief period the largest group within the 'anti-revisionist' left. From its birth of Trotskyist and Stalinist parents, the Unione's elephantine structure, its cult of leader Aldo Brandirali ('our staunch and steady guide') and its puritanical defence of family life and 'normal' sexual behaviour were a source of both fascination and horror for other leftists (Ciafaloni and Donolo 1969; Violi 1977). Dubbed 'a religious phenomenon straight out of the Counter-Reformation' by Ciafaloni (1970: 69), the Unione was initially dismissed by the workerists as a bunch of 'buffoons' intent upon dredging up the worst moments of the Communist experience. The Maoist group's activities came to assume more sinister connotations, however, after some of its members clashed with striking Milan workers disinclined to accept its particular path to salvation. 'Organisations of this type', Potere Operaio insisted soon after, practitioners of squadrismo against working-class pickets [and] the exaltation of the work ethic ... are nuclei of bourgeois resistance, associations of the class enemy, and must be dealt with as such, in the Leninist manner. (quoted in Vettori 1973: 92) As the Unione's spectacular growth turned as quickly to decline in the latter part of 1969, the MS began to break up into a series of national and local organisations. The first to emerge was a new, countrywide Potere Operaio. In Milan, the two major tendencies within the movement at the State University parted ways, one gathering around the paper Avanguardia Operaia, the other retaining the title Movimento Studentesco for its peculiar brand of MaoistStalinist politics. In a similar fashion the group that published the journal II manifesto, expelled from the PCI in late November, 126 Storming Heaven attempted to gather its widely scattered sympathisers into the semblance of an organisation. The last major current to form came together around the those in the Turin worker-student assembly most critical of the workerists' discourse on wages; together with large numbers of student activists around the North, they prepared to launch the paper Lotta Continua. With its immediate purpose thrown into doubt by the liberalisation of access to university won in 1969, and its guts torn out by such splits, the Italian MS now effectively disintegrated, replaced by a new force: the 'extra-parliamentary left' (Bobbio 1978: 40-3). Potere Operaio, Lotta Continua, Manifesto, Avanguardia Operaia: there were dozens of other, minor organisations, with the most varied politics, but only these four of the new groups had any significant national presence, albeit one dwarfed by the Communist Party. Committed to the formation of a new leadership within the working class, each had a share of workplace militants, above all in their respective strongholds: the Veneta, Turin, Rome and Milan. Still, to a greater or lesser degree, all drew their cadre from the same stuff as the student movement that had spawned them. Representative of widespread discontent amongst the new strata of intellectual labour-power, it would be vacuous to dismiss the majority of the groups' members as 'petty bourgeois', but also naive to accept at face value their self-image as vanguards of the industrial working class. That the ludicrous formulae of the Unione had offered safety, certainty and stability for militants close to exhaustion was widely recognised (Ciafaloni and Donolo 1969: 220). It had yet to be seen, however, whether the cadre of the new organisations, with the garb of 'professional revolutionary' obscuring the specificity of their own class needs, would be fundamentally different. At the time, however, few in the Italian new left seemed able to sense the dangers inherent in the formation of these 'micro' parties. Of such sceptics, perhaps the most perceptive were Ciafaloni and Donolo, who had argued back in July 1969 that the tendency to form new 'revolutionary' organisations was more symptomatic of the student movement's demobilisation than of a qualitative leap forward. The warning with which they concluded their reflections that summer was to prove as prophetic as it was unheeded: The revival of student struggles and their functionality to workers' struggles can only emerge from a revival of 'their own' struggles and an encounter with workers not as 'politicians', but as one The Creeping May 127 group of workers to another ... If one struggles without clear objectives, the sole aim being to raise hell and 'form cadres', then in reality all that will be formed is a new sector of the political class. (ibid.: 226).