12. Irony: March 23rd

Submitted by Steven. on August 14, 2009

A massive rally, called by the Trade Unions, with the Communist Party'sLuciano Lama as a star speaker ..... This took place in Piazza San Giovanni,
In Rome. It was the occasion where the fullest use of irony came out in dozens of inventive slogans against the DC PCI alliance. The Trade Union stewards tried to keep the students and young people out of the main square, but their message breached the barrier and left its indelible mark. On page 58 we have printed some of the slogans that were invented by the Movement and were used at this demo (most of them untranslatable) Our account of the demonstration, below, is taken from Lotta Continua, March 24th 1977.

The Students March Past, and a Hundred Thousand Workers Crane their Necks to catch a Glimpse of Them.

To sum up: the students today held a march which was short, but "sharp". A great pity that the 100,000 people in Piazza San Giovanni couldn't see them! They were carefully isolated from the marchers by dozens of cordons made up of the usual demo-stewards from the Trade Union Confederation. By the time the demo was over, a lot of comrades were very hoarse: dozens of new slogans had been created, very neatly aggravating everyone who had chosen to make a stand against this movement (everyone from the police in their helicopters to Mr Lama who was speaking).

Today the scene had been set by Cossiga - a trap, first to isolate, and then to strike a blow at "student subversion". We were to see the results of his campaign of hysteria against the students.

Over 25,000 comrades had assembled and marched down Via Merulana. Some were marching with linked arms; some were dancing down the street ring-a-roses style; some even marched in arrow formation (the Metropolitan Indians). Most of them were University students, but the strike had also emptied the high schools, and the march also contained the organised unemployed, bank workers, public sector workers, thousands of whom had decided to follow the political line of the Movement, and came on its march. Some even had PCI membership cards!

The march arrived at Piazza San Giovanni. It was 10.30am - and here was the first effect of Cossiga's campaign .... all the prejudice against students and young people that pour out daily from the pages of "L'Unita (the CP daily) .... the confrontation with the Trade Union stewards began, just as Luciano Lama was speaking .... The stewards stood there, sternly, but eventually even the most thick-skinned must have realised that those who stood before them were not "700 savage Autonomists", but something else ... the representatives of another social stratum, another conception of what politics is all about.

When they saw dozens of students kneeling on the ground before them (Lama, Forgive Us!), and waving cardboard model P.38 pistols at them, even the staunchest of the Lama-line defenders must have felt a little bit silly.

Meanwhile, in the main Square there was a growing curiosity of people, to get a glimpse of this march that the masses weren't supposed to see. Once again, curiosity and the desire to make contact with "the students” got the better of them. Some of the Engineering Union workers started shouting slogans against the PCI’s abstention policy on the Government, and slogans for the release of the anti-Fascist Panzieri. Then they started shouting: "Workers, Students, Unemployed - Organised Together, We Shall Win!"

Now, the students did not take up this slogan. But it was only because they were getting stuck into irony and paradox - which was the distinctive new feature and tactic of this march. After all, it wasn't hard to do.

All you had to do was take what was said from the Union platform and repeat it out loud, rhythmically, making it ridiculous ..... This showed up the gap between those Union speakers and the mass movement.

So, the march went past, escorted by police in the street and police in the air - large numbers of them - who were applauded by the Trade Union stewards!

In that square something had happened. Two strata of society had stood face to face. But so had two different ways of thinking and making politics - and making marches. a lot of people liked the students' way of doing things - in fact many PCl militants followed the students' march down to Piazza Santa Croce, where it ended with some street theatre, a lot of clowning about and a lot of little speeches by comrades. The party continued all afternoon long, on the University campus. And Mr Cossiga's plans for "dealing with" the student subversives suffered ridicule and humiliation when the day's events turned out quite the opposite of what he had intended.