Negri on football and class struggle

In June of 2006, Antonio Negri spoke with Renaud Dely and Rico Rizzitelli, two journalists from Liberation, about football, fordism and class struggle. Translated from Spanish by Guio Jacinto. Antonio Negri, theorist of the far left, philosopher of 72 years, a soccer ‘expert’ and supporter of AC Milan. His creed: Long live the revolution and the Azzuri!

Submitted by wojtek on June 7, 2015

Q: How can it be that you, a Marxist philosopher, radical thinker and theorist of the alterglobalization movement, support AC Milan, club owned by Silvio Berlusconi?

That is precisely why I cannot leave! I am a slave to my passion! Before, people on the right and on the left would support Inter and Milan respectively. It was parallel to their political commitments. It is much more confused today. It is not necessary to take the economic organization of the club very seriously. I love AC Milan because it is my father’s club and of my children. I participated in the creation of the Brigate Rossonere,1 which have nothing to do with the Brigate Rossi; it was before, in the 1960’s. We were followers of the left and we installed ourselves in the south end of the stadium. I have three children and they are all ‘Milanistas’. My daughter married an ‘Interista’, which caused a lot of problems. (jokingly) It made me happy when they separated. At any rate, soccer is nothing more than a game…

Q: For Berlusconi, being the owner of AC Milan, is it also a game?

In part, yes. Without a doubt, he wishes to use the club to gain power in politics. However, it is difficult to translate the sympathy and support in sports into politics. There remains a boundary. Berlusconi is a rabid dog. Nonetheless, he has always been very prudent not to excessively mix the two. He knows it can work against him if the team loses.

Q: But politics is also in sport. Milan’s stadium is named after Giuseppe Meazza,2 the captain of the ‘fascist squad’ of 1938…

Fascism played a lot with soccer, as did all in that era. Take a look at photos of the team: they all had their arm in the air. It was the national sport and it was during the dictatorship. Italian fascism corresponds to a precise moment; the beginning of Fordism, forced and generalized industrialisation.

Q: A player like Paolo Di Canio, from Lazio of Rome, continues to give the fascist salute…

This is racism and provocation… like Le Pen! Listen/understand: I do not want to defend ‘historical fascism’. But the fact is that it adapted to a particular and determinate situation in development in Italy, a transition. The same as Stalinism adapted to certain transformations in Russian society. But the fascists and Stalinists of today are bastards. Lazio is a team tied to the extreme right. Gianfranco Fini,3 former vice-president of the (local council) is their protector. Other teams, infinitely more likeable, are tied to the extreme left; this is the case with Livorno. If you want to have fun, go see them. They are very original... nostalgic, from the extreme left.

Q: Is it also the case with the hooligans phenomenon that politics ‘invades’ sports?

It is not a phenonmenon specific to sports. The fascists try to change the positive things that people do. They do it with the social relations created by the progressives as well as with football. I think that fascism is at the base or root of hooliganism. It deals with, or is related to, before anything, with the phenomenon associated with urban violence. For example, the Heysell drama came from outside. It was like a meteorite that fell upon the stadium. It could be that football is a favourable territory, but it is necessary to distinguish between favourable territory and the cause. The cause is ‘outside’ or exterior. Football is innocent.

Q: On the occasion of the European constitutional referendum, you decided to vote ‘yes’, from the pages of Liberation because the treaty, according to you, would contribute to ‘destroying this shithole of the nation-state’. How about in football? Do you side with the G14, who put in question the existence of ‘national football’ teams?

When I talk about the end of the nation-state, I do not mean the end of the local, of the passions. The European space is very important in order to create a power/potency against the United States and liberalism. None of this has been done, and this is the reason that we are currently screwed. I maintain that I was correct, that I had reason. But I am a friend of Chavez and I am against nations. I am for Europe, but also for the Azzuri! Viva football and viva Maradona! (laughter) Even if Brussels nominated a committee to form a European team, I am not that sure that I would agree. Even if it involved Capello…

Q: In France, this separation between politics and football is much more delicate…

I, for my part, accept the contradiction and manage it from the inside…

Q: How?

I enjoy making revolution! I enjoy going to football! When one has energy they disperse it every which way. I never understood those which separated these two worlds/universes. In Italy, there were groups which had such a reasoning. They were the Catholics, people with an extremely pure conception. Why do Italian and English intellectuals talk with such ease about sports while the French have felt so uncomfortable during such a long time? Because the French intellectuals are absurd people who live outside of reality! They are intelligent and capable of constructing systems because they are in the universal. We, however, live a reality that is much more concrete, fuller of life, more biopolitical. Sport is very important in revealing the material consistency of social relations and the passions at levels which are not elementary but instead the first phenomenological configurations of the real. Wow, pardon the jargon…

Q: Why is football, in your opinion, a universal sport?

Its great merit lies in its ability to make people talk amongst each other, although as a sport it is very boring. Like the cinema, the theatre or the opera. On the other hand, it has the same melodramatic sentiment as opera. With a character, the coach, who has a fundamental role. It is from this character that my love for football was born. I had a great adventure (sic). It was about Nereo Rocco, the inventor of the Italian catenaccio. At the end of the 50’s, he coached Trieste and after Padua. At Padua, with a mediocre team, he developed a defensive game a la Italiana, the Italian game at its most boring, hardest and ferocious. Later on, he took the same style of play to Milan and Gianni Brera, a journalist, during the 60’s, from Il Giorno, a socialist and progressive journal, theorized it and in it saw a certain national characteristic.

Q: Philippe Séguin, the football expert, was in accordance with those Marxist columnists from Le Miroir du football who argued, in the 1970’s, that catenaccio was the most reactionary style of play that existed. What do you have to say in respect to this?

Never permit a right-wing reactionary like him to speak badly of catenaccio! (laughter) Gianni Brera used to say that catenaccio was associated with the character of Italians, a tough/rough character, of peasant, from the soil. Catenaccio constituted the equivalent of rugby in football. It was the class struggle; one is weak and has to defend oneself. Quite the opposite of what Segun had to say. Catenaccio was born in Venice, a land in which people, in the 1950’s, were obliged to leave in order to emigrate because they had nothing to eat; it was the great migration of the masons/brick layers or ice cream vendors to Belgium, Switzerland, the line of the Rhine. Catenaccio corresponds to the nature of these northern regions, strong immigrants, tough, fierce because they were hungry.

Q: Were you a fan of the Azzuri during the time in which, during the 60’s and 70’s, you were a professor at the University of Padua?

I was a fan of the Italian team when it won in 1982. I was at the time in prison. It was the only day in which we embraced with the guards. We were allowed to have one half of the prisoners in the same cell to watch the game. And when the game was over, they opened the door and we embraced. It was a bit misleading/ambiguous! (laughter) Football has a logic which is very different to that of the rest of society. It is really dangerous to think that it can be an element of mystification of social relations. In the last instance, the joy that a victory produces… but for the tiffosi it is not simply about a game. In Italy, a sporting event triggered, in 1948, a whole national rhetoric; Bartali won the Tour de France. The civil war was a threat because Togliatti, the leader of the PCI was injured in a political attack (assassination attempt?) The President of the Republic telephoned Bartali asking him to win. And that win served to emphasize the element of national unification against that element of hard conflict in the country after that fascist attempt on the Communist Party leader.

Q: Can a victory like the one in 1982 create and exalt national sentiments against foreigners?

I don’t believe so, no. There can be dramatic moments in the history of a country, moments which sport escapes… Football is not very nationalistic. If you take a look at the Italian clubs, how many national players are there in these teams? Not many, right? And look at the French. They are everywhere, the French!

Q: That is because money has imposed itself on the nation. What are your opinions on the consequences of the Bosman ruling? In principle, it deals with a ‘right to association’ in favour of a player screwed by the system…

A backward ‘right’ which determines the liberation of the market! It deals with the deregulation of the national market and, as a consequence, the constitution of a world market… European, in reality. The only way to bring equilibrium or balance to this capitalist situation is to create popular societies and popular shareholders. It is necessary to support the possibility of alternatives on this terrain through public powers; on the other hand, there is the revolutionary alternative. Either destroy capitalism or popular societies are constituted!

Q: All of the French players that move to Italy are disconcerted with the importance of tactics during practice…

This is due to Italians being ‘Machiavellian’.(sic). Machiavellianism consists in making due with what you have at your disposal, in your hands. It is just like the French to be stupefied at this insistence on tactics. The French have never been Machiavellian, they have always been theorists of State reason which is different. But if the Italians thought a little less, they would win more-often. Their results are not extraordinary; they are, of course, not like the Brazilians. And that the French have only recently begun to win games while the Italians had already won them in the 30’s with Piola’s hand, Just like Maradona’s hand of God!

Q: Why is the history of sport in Italy full of rivalries; AC Milan vs. Inter, Roma vs. Lazio, Coppi vs Bartali, Moser vs. Saronni, etc?

Italian unity only dates to 1870. The history of Italy is a history of cities/city-states: Florence vs Pisa, Venice vs. Milan, Roma vs. Naples, etc. The Italian language was only constituted in the 30’s, under fascism and disseminated by the radio. Until then, you could not put in the same regiment people from Valle d’Aosta and Sicily. When they were asked to advance, some would retreat! The history of the country is very recent; the history of the cities is very old and it is a history of classes.

Q: Your partner/wife is an Interista and said of Inter: ‘They lose all the time and that is magnificent… Like Hungary’s legendary defeat in 1954'?

Careful! We are dealing with a French woman who lived a long time in Italy and, before me, had a partner who was an Inter supporter. A type of nostalgia for the Nerazzurri has been created. Inter has the image of a team which is extremely ‘thoughtful’ or ‘intelligent’, in which people take the inside/interior more into consideration than the exterior. Hungary4 is a great ‘Danubian’ football team; an extremely delicate style, playing more along ‘in-line’ than through the masses. Great Italian football is a synthesis from two origins: ‘Danubian’ football and Argentinian football. The ‘Danubians’ are the ‘in-line’; the Argentinians, the individuals. And from there proceeds what the journalist Brera called the ‘Italian peasant race’. It is necessary to put these three elements together and you have the perfect dialectical synthesis, the masses of Italian football.

Q: Do you go to the stadium when you are in Milan?

No, practically never. When I am in Paris, I go to see the games at a friends house. We are a group of former exiles, we get together Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Amongst us there is a chef, owner of a big restaurant in Paris. We eat well and watch the game. Some are supporters of Milan, others of Juventus, and we fight. We recreate a type of great classic Italian comedy…

Q: You never speak of French football…

In 1954-1955 I spent a year in France, at the ENS; I didn’t imagine that football existed in France at that time. Here (France) it is a product of colonialism. Be careful, I don’t not want to be seen or understood as a LePenist saying this! I do not want to expel players of colour from France, but, in France, football was born from Italian immigration.

France is the only country in western Europe in which virtually all levels of immigration have played in the national team. The first black English player was not selected until 1978!

So long live integration a la Francais!

  • 1Ultras group for supporters of AC Milan created in the 60’s and which still exists today.
  • 2Former minister in Berlusconi’s government. Relaunched the extreme right at the beginning of the 90’s by transforming the neofascist MSI into the ‘post-fascist’ Alianza Nacional.
  • 3Scored 30 goals in 34 games with the Italian team, two of them in the World Cup final of 1938 (4-2 vs. Hungary), Silvio Piola became famous by scoring a goal with his hand in 1939 against the English (2-2).
  • 4Between 1950 and 1955, the Hungarian national team did not lose more than 1 game out of 33: the final in the World Cup vs Germany (3-2).



9 years ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Khawaga on June 7, 2015

Fun read.


7 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by nization on October 22, 2016

"Football is innocent" says Toni Negri.

Hegel: "Only stones are innocent."

Spot the blabbing idiot...

Serge Forward

7 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Serge Forward on October 22, 2016


"Football is innocent" says Toni Negri.

Hegel: "Only stones are innocent."

Spot the blabbing idiot...