Part 4: Social movements and protest in the 1970s

18. Residual and emergent political forms

In the decade following the dramatic resurgence of social conflict in 1968, in Italy and in other Western capitalist countries, there was a spread and multiplication of oppositional movements. Alberto Melucci has listed the main examples:

(a) worker conflict involving new categories (semi-skilled, young and immigrant); (b) trade union conflicts extended to different occupational groups (especially in the tertiary and public sectors); (c) student movements; (d) urban struggles; (e) feminist movements; (f) youth counter-culture; (g) movements linked with sexuality; (h) regional movements; (i) ethnic conflicts; (j) consumer protest; (k) ecological movements; (k) neo-religious and communitarian movements; (m) anti-institutional protest (over justice, prisons, psychiatric hospitals); (n) struggles linked to the problems of health and medicine.

There are, of course, considerable differences between these forms of action, and they have specific histories, but in various ways they can all be related to the movements of ‘68-9. It was the students’ and workers’ movements which provided the models which other movements attempted to replicate, revise or break away from.

The significance of the ‘68 legacy can be seen in how the thoughts of a generation continually returned to it. The struggles of those years were recounted in epic terms; oral accounts were supplemented by auto- biographies, interviews, histories, anniversary editions and reprints which celebrated moments of heroism. The genre which can be called the ‘class struggle epic’ was recreated. The worker emerged as a mythical figure in the iconography of the period, and is the protagonist of a particular type of narrative.

A Ieitmotif of the epic is the protagonist’s struggle to transcend individualism, and the celebration of the moment of transcendence. It recurs especially in autobiographical accounts. Antonio Antonuzzo’s story about his ‘conversion’ to unionism is but one example of a phenomenon which was most pervasive in oral form. In the 1970s oral history developed to capture these memories for posterity, and to serve as a basis for reflection on the nature of subjectivities and experience. Above all, worker militants were encouraged to recount their personal histories. An interesting example of this is an interview with a Fiat worker, Franco Platania, recorded in 1974. The story starts with how Platania conducts a personal war with the company (how he outwits foremen and survives the hell of the production-line), and follows his adventures through to the Hot Autumn when, he declares, he changed utterly as a person:

At that moment my personal biography loses all interest as far as individual motivations are concerned. I joined a Communist organization, Lotta Continua. The important moments of my life tended to become one with the collective moments of struggle that were being shared by the whole working class of Fiat. I felt that every day, as I took on increased political responsibilities, I also took on new dimensions as a human being.

In this instance the epic struggles and the joining of a revolutionary organization are elided, but that is really a secondary element in a typical narrative. More important is the way in which the individual’s contingent and haphazard story is subsumed in the story of a class, which is also a future and a destiny.

The re-telling of ‘68 was an aspect of an important shift in political attitudes. It was necessary, in the wake of the social movements, to legitimate undertakings with reference to an active consensus formed in collective struggles, rather than with reference to institutional definitions of consensus, such as the parliamentary vote. Thus, within the unions, there was a continual evocation of the Hot Autumn, which represented a moment of rebirth. The struggles of ‘68-9 were, in other words, a fount of legitimacy, and a mythic renaissance for their protagonists. However, the struggles were interpreted in different and conflicting ways, and during the 1970s there was a process of reappraisal. It was said that ‘lessons had to be learnt’, and that the earlier movements had limited and even prevented the emergence of radically new forms of opposition. By the time of the tenth anniversary of 1968 the number of critical, and even dismissive, analyses had largely displaced the celebratory accounts. Another generation had grown up for whom ‘68 was a second-hand experience. From a vantage point in the 1980s it is possible to get a clearer picture of how the ‘68-9 movements left a contradictory legacy, which looked backwards into the past, as well as anticipating future developments.

With the benefit of hindsight, some useful, though necessarily cautious, distinctions can be made between the political and social projects which took shape in the 1970s. These can be broadly divided into ‘residual’ and ‘emergent’ forms. These terms are more ‘epochal’ than the categories of ‘movement’ and ‘institution’ so far referred to which are more adequate for the analysis of the shorter term developments. The former are useful in highlighting longer term historical shifts. Raymond Williams offers a useful definition:

By ‘residual’ I mean that some experiences, meanings and values, which cannot be verified or cannot be expressed in terms of the dominant culture, are nevertheless lived and practised on the basis of the residue - cultural as well as social - of some previous social formation. There is a real case of this in certain religious values .... A residual culture is usually at some distance from the effective dominant culture, but one has to recognise that, in real cultural activities, it may get incorporated into it … The pressures are real, but certain genuinely residual meanings and practices in some important cases survive. By ‘emergent’ I mean, first, that new meanings and values, new practices, new significances and experiences, are continually being created. But there is then a much earlier attempt to incorporate them, just because they are part - and not yet a defined part - of effective contemporary practice .... It may be true of some earlier phases of bourgeois society that there were some areas of experience . . . which it was prepared to assign as the sphere of private life .... But I am sure that . . . because of developments in the social character of labour, in the social character of communications, and in the social character of decision, it extends much further into certain hitherto resigned areas of experience .... thus, the effective decision, as to whether a practice is alternative or oppositional, is now made within a very much narrower scope .... This is usually the difference between individual and small-group solutions to social crisis and those solutions which properly belong to political and - ultimately revolutionary practice. But it is often a very narrow line .... A meaning or practice may be tolerated as a deviation, but as the necessary area of effective dominance extends, the same meanings and practices can be seen by the dominant culture, not merely as disregarding or despising it, but as challenging it.

Williams’s definitions are primarily made in reference to cultural practices, but they can equally be applied more generally. They parallel Touraine’s analyses of ‘traditional’ and ‘new’ social movements. Williams differs in putting more stress on how the ‘residual’ survives and can be reactivated, and he continually underlines the ambiguities and double-sidedness of attempts to counter the dominant order.

Marx’s remarks in The Eighteenth Brumaire about bourgeois revolutions give a complementary perspective in which political action and cultural practices fuse:

Men make their own history but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted by the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they seem engaged in revolutionizing themselves and things, and in creating something that has never yet existed, precisely in such moments of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle-cries, and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language.

It is important to note that emergent and new movements can only struggle into existence by drawing on existing traditions. These provide not just easily disposable accoutrements, but the very languages with which to think about social change. At the same time, they impose limits, and make it difficult to communicate experiences for which adequate words do not seem to exist. However, although the new forms can only emerge by selecting, transforming and/or discarding the old, Marx writes that the residual forms can also be revived in ways that parody and that flee from reality, making ‘ghosts walk about again’. Indeed, it is Marx’s contention that only proletarian revolutions can ‘strip off all superstition in regard to the past’; for him they find their ‘poetry’ in the future. However, a century later, the neatness of this distinction between the ‘proletarian’ and ‘bourgeois’ revolution seems dubious in a way it might not have in Marx’s lifetime, as the experiences of ‘68-9 testify. The social movements of those years can be seen as comprising a rich mixture of residual and emergent forms which contained both ‘oppositional’ and ‘alternative’ practices. The student movement is an excellent example. It was a new phenomenon historically, and brought a new order of social conflicts into the open. As Alain Touraine has observed of the French situation:

the students are representative of all those who suffer more from social integration and cultural manipulation directed by the economic structures than from economic exploitation and material misery.

At the same time, the ideologists of student revolt were deeply influenced by the ideas of Marxism and, to a lesser extent, by radical religious thinking. The movement’s symbols were borrowed directly from the ‘ workers’ movement, as was the rhetoric of its leaders. The ‘residual’ forms played a significant role in reactivating protest, as has been seen in the case of the Marxist ‘heresies’ in the 1960s, but the revival of neo-Leninist organizations led to an impasse; the old residues not only were inadequate in the sort of analyses and politics they offered, but they actively resisted the emergence of new forms of social action. Whilst the social movement at its height combined different and often conflicting practices, when it went into decline it fragmented. Subsequently, some of the fragments, such as the neo-Leninist ones, tended to stand in the way of new movements, whilst others contributed to their formation.

It is perhaps possible schematically to distinguish between those forces or tendencies coming out of the late sixties which anticipated and stimulated a ‘movementist’ politics (emergent forms), and those which proposed organizational solutions (residual forms) to what they regarded as the failings of social movements. As will be seen, this polarization is too simple, there is no clear demarcation between the backward-looking and the forward-looking. History is not a linear development, a railway line connecting past and future. It is notable that what Touraine refers to as traditional forms (industrial militancy, for example) continued to dominate the shape of social conflict in the 1970s, and were themselves extended and realigned in novel ways. Nonetheless, the distinction is not purely an analytic convenience. The increasingly drastic and diverse reassessments of ‘68-9 in the following decades signalled a real polarization; basic assumptions were put into crisis. It was then no longer clear that the labour movement was the major progressive force nor was it clear what, if anything, was meant by the labels ‘the Left’ or ‘comrade’.

Indeed, the conflicts which emerged in terms of ‘movement versus organization/bureaucracy’ (itself a frame of reference typical of traditional politics), involved questions of precisely the legitimacy or value of a label- ling process, and hence of a political subculture’s whole vocabulary and sets of codes. The protagonists of a ‘movement’ politics did not merely propose a different answer to the question ‘how should opposition be organized?’, but asked new sets of questions concerning aspects of people’s lives which had previously been excluded from politics altogether. They introduced notions of autonomy and control which required social action of a kind incompatible with parties, unions and other organizational models.

The emergence of these new forms of social conflict is the central theme in the sections which follow. These will focus on youth protest and the feminist movement in Italy, since they have been widely seen as the most representative forms of what has been called a ‘post-political politics’. Rather than attempt to provide a detailed history or chronology of the formation of these movements, there will be something more akin to a brief outline of their development, which compares them with their fore- runners of the late sixties. The recurring question that will be asked is: to what extent were these movements a continuation of tendencies present in the mobilizations of ‘68-9 and to what extent did they represent a rupture with that past? This question entails looking at the Italian situation (an equivalent examination of the French, German or British case would tell a very different story), but raises the more epochal and general observations of Alain Touraine on the consequences of the transition from a pre- dominantly industrial to a post-industrial society. No answer can be given on this question without a thorough consideration of the changes in the political, social and economic structures of advanced capitalist societies (and this will not be attempted here), but it is possible to undertake the more limited task of seeing how social movements evolved over the seventies. Analysis will centre on how social actors worked with inherited models and adapted them to their needs.

Two chapters, therefore, deal with the youth and women’s movements (in that order), but the first chapter will take the case of red terrorism in Italy. This requires some explanation since terrorism (as will be made clear) cannot be considered a social movement. The intention is rather to look at the phenomenon in its early years as a residual form of politics. It, too, was a product of the political upheavals of the late sixties, and no account of the oppositional political developments following 1968-9 would be complete without an analysis of the role of terrorism.

19. The Red Brigades: sons and daughters of ‘68?

Alberto Melucci has referred to red terrorism as ‘paradoxically both the most radical result and the most radical antithesis of the new "class movements”’. It is a paradox that commentators have too easily dismembered into one of its constituent parts; they have thereby interpreted ‘68 as the Pandora’s Box of modem Italy, or have written off red terrorism as quite extraneous to the social movements. It is the paradox, however, which is central. Without analysing the ambiguities and the polysemic elements of the subculture created by the social movements of 1968-9, it is impossible to make sense of both the coexistence and the conflict that characterized the relationship between the social movements and the first of the major armed organizations, the Red Brigades, during the course of the 1970s.

In the early 1970s the coexistence between the movements and the armed organizations was often amicable. In the late seventies, however, separation and antagonism characterized the relationship between the majority in the social movements and the project of the armed organizations. An outline of this development is useful in understanding how the Red Brigades represented a residual form of politics which, while being unequivocally oppositional, was fundamentally at odds with the idea of social movements that took root in 1968-9. Or, to put it another way, it was the very radicalness - the total nature of the Red Brigades’ opposition to the dominant order - which made them regressive.

The Formative Years: From Sabotage to Assassination

The Red Brigades announced their formation in a leaflet, dated 20 October 1970, in which they described themselves as ‘autonomous’ workers’ organizations . . . ready to fight the bosses and their lackeys on their own ground as equals’. The founder members had all been active in the movements of the previous two years; Renato Curcio, for example, who was the leading theorist among them, had edited a political review at Trento University. Their decision to take up arms was seen by them as a break with, but also a maturation of, developments in social conflicts. Early documents emphasize the limits of the Hot Autumn struggles; they are described as disorganized, localized and largely subordinate to the capitalist system (‘it is not possible to bargain with the bosses for socialism’). The blame for the non-revolutionary outcome of the workers’ action is laid at the door of the ‘revisionists’ (the Communist Party and others), who were said to have contained the movements within the bounds of legality. It is this ‘legalism’ which is identified again and again by the Red Brigades as the principal weakness of the opposition forces. Respect for the law is seen as a crippling handicap in the presence of a capitalist class which unleashes state violence whenever threatened. The bloody events of Avola, Battipaglia, and the Piazza Fontana bombing seemed to provide irrefutable evidence of this analysis. Yet, in the eyes of the Red Brigades, the working class had shown itself ready to use violence during the mass mobilizations and in everyday clashes with management.

The idea of ‘proletarian violence’ was by no means exclusive to those choosing to engage in armed struggle. It was widely canvassed within the social movements. Moreover, violent action was a significant, if largely symbolic, aspect of clashes with the police or with foremen. ‘War’ metaphors abounded in the language of the Left. The Red Brigades could, therefore, legitimately claim to be drawing on a tradition and not just a movement’s spontaneous outbursts of rage. Their proclaimed aim of building proletarian counter-power in the factories, which entailed ‘dismantling the hierarchies of command’, was a basic element in the operaist politics shared with other political groupings of the ‘extra-parliamentary left’, such as Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua. Furthermore, the Red Brigades had ideas about ‘proletarian justice’ which were common to the Marxist-Leninist tendencies in the movement. This meant that ‘the people’ had to create its own standards of justice in its struggle against the dominant laws, and that the ‘enemy’ had to be subjected to its jurisdiction. The cardinal ideas of proletarian justice were not the Red Brigades’ inventions; they were present in the social movements. But, as will be seen by looking at the Red Brigades in action, they combined what were disparate elements in the activities of the social movements to produce a systematic terrorist strategy.

The Red Brigades’ first target was the Pirelli rubber company in Milan, which had been in the eye of the storm of industrial conflict. In December 1970 the contract for the sector was once more due for renewal. Inside the Biccoca plant some former members of the CUB had formed a grouping calling itself Collettivo Politico Metropolitano. It was on militants on the inside that the guerrilla actions relied for reports on the shopfloor situation, the listing of potential targets, the distribution of leaflets, feedback and recruitment. It seems that the trade union and Communist Party had regained control of the plant after the crisis in their authority in 1968-9, but there remained bitter and frustrated activists on the Left. A publication by a group of these within the factory council warned against the danger of concluding from the worsening repression that ‘fascism is knocking at the door’, and that ‘we in the name of the working class must accept the level of struggle imposed by the bosses and turn to proletarian violence’.

It was among these kind of militants, who were highly politicized and with experience of daily skirmishes with management, that the Red Brigades won support. Alessandro Pizzorno outlines the consequences of what he refers to as an ‘excess of militancy’, which became a particular problem with the formation of the right-wing Andreotti government in February 1972, and the exclusion of activists from posts within the factory as councils. Pizzorno writes that the latter had

a bitter taste in the mouth left over from their hopes in 1969-70. Therefore, they either remain on the margins, or they continue to work autonomously exposed to the danger of making their political and trade-union commitments extremist. The sudden brake put on the development of conflict provokes an uncontrolled rush forward.

The first activities of the Red Brigades were geared to this factory-based conflict. It is possible from early communiques to reconstruct the main features of their actions. Seven of these related to actions at Pirelli between November 1970 and April 1971. Communique 1 listed the names of the bosses’ agents (servi del padrone); thus, Ermano Pellegrini ‘has the job of keeping files on political activists, and every day sends a report to the personnel manager, and is in contact with the commissioners of police’; ‘Brioschi, Ercole Carlo. Personnel secretary in cable division - champion scab’. These ‘spies’ are said to ‘deserve pillory’, and Giovanni Nasi, ‘inventor of the Pirelli piece-rate system’, ‘deserves to be abolished along with his piece-rates’; ‘for every comrade they hit at during the struggle, they must pay the price’. Communique 2 called this the principle of ‘for one eye - two eyes, for a tooth - the whole face’. The names, addresses and telephone numbers of the ‘enemies’ are provided with the obvious invitation to workers to make threatening calls and write abusive letters. In Communique 5 the best way of fighting for the contract is said to be ‘using the only arm available by making the struggle more incisive and violent’. The actual actions, however, consisted of destroying the cars of managers held responsible for sacking a leading militant, and of setting fire to a warehouse of tyres. Otherwise, there is extensive incitement to sabotage in Communique 7 which detailed the ‘intelligent’ use of nail and spanner in disrupting production.

The purpose of the Red Brigades’ actions was spelt out in the publication Sinistra Proletaria. It seems that the principle objective was to educate the workers and to make them see that the state was an organ of class repression which could only be fought with arms:

It is time to move ahead to a general confrontation in order to establish the principle among the proletarian masses in struggle that ‘no one has political power unless, they have military power’; to educate the proletarian and revolutionary Left to the need for resistance and partisan actions; to unmask the oppressive and repressive power structures that divide the class.

However, the scale of terrorist actions remained localized, and they were designed to supplement ongoing workers’ struggles.

In March 1972, the Red Brigades carried out their first kidnapping (although ‘kidnap’ is a strong word for twenty minutes in the back of a van). The victim was a manager of Sit Siemens. He was photographed with a placard around his neck with the following inscription: ‘Milan 3.3.72, Macchiarini, Idalgo, fascist manager of Sit Siemens, tried by the RB. The proletarians have taken up arms, for the bosses it is the beginning of the end.’ Another placard attached to the manager who had now been dumped in the road declared: ‘Red Brigades - Hit and run - No one will go unpunished - Strike one and educate one hundred - All power to the armed people.

In the early 1970s there were important actions around housing (squatting, tenants’ strikes), which continued the grassroots politics developed in 1968-9. However, the Red Brigades did not succeed in making any links with them, despite an obvious interest in extending their activities outside the factories. They were especially attracted by the resistance to evictions, which brought disobedience of the law to the forefront:

A the law is the instrument of capital .. . it is against this unjust violence that the people will exercise its just mass forms of violence, as it has already started to do in many areas of Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples.

However, the Red Brigades concentrated their energies on the industrial proletariat, and had little time for the urban sub-proletariat, who were the chief protagonists of the housing actions.

Until April 1974 the targets of the Red Brigades remained constant. In June 1973 they kidnapped a manager of Alfa Romeo in Milan, and then in December a Fiat personnel manager. In addition, they attacked ‘yellow union’ personnel and property. The kidnappings were for longer periods, and involved the interrogation and trial of the victim. The Red Brigades consciously cultivated an alternative jurisdictional ritual, and put the existing legal system ‘on trial’ when in April 1974, they kidnapped a judge, Mario Sossi, in Genoa. The terrain of struggle, they now claimed, reached the ‘centre of the state-organized counter-revolution’. Sossi was found guilty of crimes against the proletariat but was released unharmed. However, two years later, the kidnapped procurator Coco was executed.

The escalation of operations, which reached their highpoint with the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro in the spring of 1978, turned the Red Brigades into an important political factor. Apart from their military ‘professionalism’, they showed remarkable ability in manipulating the media to communicate their messages; communiques roneoed and left in public places, or the graffiti with the RB symbol had previously been seen by few people; now, they were read by newscasters and appeared on the front page of newspapers.

Over the years there has been debate about whether changes in the terrorists’ objectives reflect a generational turnover, so that some have contrasted the ‘Robin Hood’ idealism of the founding figures to the cold- blooded ruthlessness of their successors. There has also been speculation about the origins of the phenomenon, including suggestions that a grande vecchio or old partisan figure was the mastermind. Clearly, many mysteries remain, and the story is a complex one in which individual . biography as well as broader historical developments play a part. The purpose here is the more limited one of identifying the continuities and breaks between the Red Brigades and the social movements from which they came.

The Meaning of Political Violence

In many respects, the political ideas and organization adopted by the Red Brigades were yet another minor variant of the Marxist revival of the late 1960s. For them, the Chinese model was an especial source of inspiration, but that was common enough. The radical difference between the Red Brigades and others lay in the fact that they alone based their notion of leadership and revolutionary action in the systematic use of violence. As Luigi Manconi has observed:

For the Red Brigades the use of violence is the only form of struggle, the programme, the strategy, the mainspring and the verification of class consciousness.

In the social movements, violence was just one of the many means of protest, and was normally a secondary feature, Usually, the greater the support for a strike, occupation or demonstration, the less the need to use coercion. Violence was also given meaning by the context in which it took place. What the Red Brigades attempted to do was, firstly, to imitate what they took to be popular forms (the threatening letter, punitive actions), and then to substitute them by more professional and military actions (kidnappings, assassinations) carried out ‘in the name of the masses’. Yet the Red Brigades’ assumption of a vanguardist role did not alienate the considerable ‘area of sympathy’ which surrounded them up to the time of the Moro case. Indeed, their daring exploits won them admiration, especially among contemporaries who had taken part in the social movements of the late sixties (even though the Left press regularly A condemned terrorist actions as the work of Fascists or agents provocateurs). In a sense, figures like Renato Curcio and his comrade-in-arms Mara Cagol had chosen to live out what others had only fantasised; they had sacrificed personal ambitions and safety for the cause. The rescue of Renato from prison, Mara’s death in a shoot-out with the police, the treachery of the infiltrator, the ex-monk ‘brother Girotto’, and the kidnapping of hated managers and judges - all these fired imaginations fed on the ‘class struggle epic’. Nor is there reason to suppose that assassinations provoked popular revulsion. For a period, the ‘justice’ administered by the Red Brigades was attributed a providential role. They were the ‘avenging angels’, who punished corrupt oppressors. Manconi argues convincingly that the Red Brigades’ perception of this

has led them to stress the connotations of legitimacy and justice in their actions - trials/counter-trials; state prisons/people’s prisons; army of the bourgeoisie/ army of the proletariat .... From this flows the whole macabre and grotesque ritual of the "trials’, ‘interrogations’ and ‘sentences’, of a judicial procedure which imitates and inversely mirrors that of the state apparatuses.

The Red Brigades’ capacity to attract sympathizers and capture the imagination needs to be related, it should be said, to the state’s continued paralysis or deliberate inactivity in the face of social protest. The divide between the paese reale and the paese legale, between represented and representatives (the first violent expression of which was post-unification banditry), was exploited to the extent that the terrorists could lay claim to a measure of popular support not forthcoming for the government itself. The actions of the authorities in the wake of the Piazza Fontana bombing were a turning-point in this respect. An article by Franco Ferrarotti in 1970 pointed unequivocally to the dangers:

Violence is always basically the response - inarticulate, desperate and often counter-productive - to grave inadequacies on the part of the authorities. It reveals a loss of contact, communication and identification between the top and the bottom of the social system, and to the exploitation by those above of those beneath them. The official holders of constitutional power should be ~ thankful for violence. It is their alarm-bell .... It is right to consider alternative solutions such as pacificism or non-violent resistance .... But their effectiveness depends on the existence of a common trust and respect for the rules of the game.

However, the politicians and authorities paid little attention to the alarm- bell, and showed an often arrogant disregard for the ‘rules of the game’, while speaking of their belief in parliamentary democracy. The Piazza Fontana bombing was the first of a long series of cases involving conspiracy and corruption in high places for which no one was found guilty and punished.

Government repression, the ‘strategy of tension’ involving fascist bombings, the inadequacies or absence of reforms created conditions favourable to terrorist initiatives, Norberto Bobbio has observed how the development of secret government was parallelled by the growth of clandestine organizations:

I call crypto-government the ensemble of actions performed by terrorist political forces that operate in the dark with the various secret services . . . or at least without their opposition. The most disturbing episode of this kind in recent Italian history is undoubtedly the Piazza Fontana massacre. After more than ten years the mystery has not been revealed . . . the darkness has not been lifted . . . I limit myself to recalling the suspicion . . . that state secrecy has been used to protect anti-state secrecy .... The degeneration of the Italian democratic system began there . . . if the existence of arcunum imperii remains a hypothesis, it is not a hypothesis but a tragic reality to have experienced the return, unthinkable a few years ago, of arcane seditionis in the form of terrorism. Terrorism is an exemplary instance of occult power present through- out history. One of the founders of modem terrorism, Bakunin, proclaimed the necessity of an ‘invisible dictatorship’. Whoever joins a terrorist group is forced to go underground, wear a mask, and exercise the same art of lying so often described as one the prince’s stratagems. He, too, scrupulously follows the maxim that power is more effective the more he knows and sees without being seen.

However, the formation of the Red Brigades cannot be adequately explained as a reaction to state action. The short-lived and desperate history of the Gruppi Armati Partigiani (GAP), which tried to recreate a partisan organization to fight an expected coup d’Etat, was an aberration. The Red Brigades might have grown as a consequence of the state’s incompetence, wilful neglect or instrumental exploitation of terrorism, but they were, from the beginning, an offensive not a defensive organization. Their project was conceived in the light of the immense potential for revolutionary transformation that the social movements appeared to reveal. It is necessary, therefore, to examine more closely the chemistry which produced terrorism out of movements from which terrorist organizations were absent.

‘68 and the Elements of a Regressive Political Culture

The relationship between the political culture of ‘68 and the formation of red terrorism has been the subject of extensive debate in Italy. One of the most interesting contributions is that of Nando Dalla Chiesa, who tries to explore the contradictory ideas and practices which led to political outcomes of radically different kinds. Dalla Chiesa suggests six headings under which the problems can be usefully examined. These are the sovereignty of ideology over theory; the myth of the revolution ‘around- the-comer’, democracy as a formal problem; the anthropomorphic vision of capital; the disdain for human life; and the mystique of violence.

Firstly, there is the question of ideology - ‘the triumph of dogmatism’. Dalla Chiesa writes:

This element of the political culture is the prior and necessary condition on which the other elements develop . . . and what makes them susceptible to ' terrorist developments.

Although the experience of ‘68-9 cannot be reduced to its sloganizing, nevertheless, ‘ideologism’ played a determinant role in structuring the realities of social conflict. The thriving personality cults were the crudest manifestation of a tendency, to make society’s image conform to the readings of Marx, Lenin and others. This had placed limits on the freedom to construct political alternatives and created a climate within organizations which was inimical to debate and discussion. The ideologues of the Red Brigades were among the most sectarian and fundamentalist in this respect. They recited the writings of Chairman Mao and Lenin ad nauseam, and their own tracts made claims and pronouncements (supported with citations from the classics) as if from on high. The slogans around the neck of the kidnapped Idalgo Macchiarini were taken from Guevara and Lenin. For all their claims to novelty and originality (within the Communist tradition), the Red Brigades were exponents of ossified orthodoxies.

Secondly, the myth of incipient revolution common to the generation of ‘68 had important effects, not only in motivating action, but in producing acute disillusion many months later. It gave priority to the efficiency, speed and timing of political action, and hence the subordination of means to pressing ends. The notions of the ‘militarization of power’ and the need to face capital ‘on an equal footing’ were an extreme version of a widespread fetishization of organization within left-wing organizations. But the Red Brigades interpreted the idea of ‘class war’ literally. For them, the civil war was not to be awaited; it was to be anticipated in the present by undertaking urban guerrilla action. The Red Brigades saw their task as anticipating the future by making the use of force a choice to be taken now rather than later. History taught the necessity of arming the struggle in its earliest stages. For the Red Brigades, history could be analysed as a series of transitions from spontaneous to organized violence through to civil war. So, while ‘the revolution’ was not just ‘round the corner’, the unfolding of the historical process meant that the moment of reckoning could be counted on.

Thirdly, the political culture of ‘68 contained negative conceptions of democracy, which became the commonsense of many thousands of activists, especially on the extra-parliamentary Left. Although the social movements of ‘68-9 saw remarkable experiments in political participation and unleashed radical democratic forces in Italian society, the existing democratic institutions (parliament, elections) were normally seen as either a formal sham or a palliative. Direct, participatory democracy was counter-posed to bourgeois democracy. For the Red Brigades, democracy was just a mask disguising the real exercise of power, and hence the need to strip it away. Such an attitude to decision-making also militated against open internal discussion.

The anthropomorphic vision of capital and the state is the fourth element identified by Dalla Chiesa as part of the political culture of ‘68 which combined with others to produce red terrorism. The identification of capital with the capitalist (often pictured with a black hat and money bag), and of domination with the dominators, was part and parcel of a traditional socialist propaganda, which was revived during the struggles of 1968-9. As Dalla Chiesa points out, analyses were particularly contradictory when they combined a reductive economism (capitalism as the ‘objective’ operation of a set of laws), with ‘conspiracy theory’ in which Agnelli and Pirelli were seen to pull the wires of Italian capitalism. Instead of using Marxist theory to show that the capitalist was not personally responsible for a capitalism of which he himself was victim as well as beneficiary, power was identified with the powerful. Thus the term servi del padrone (bosses’ lackeys), which was so often used in Red Brigade communiques, by detailing the functions carried out by management personnel and state officials served to confirm their ‘objective’ guilt. The first targets of the Red Brigades tended to be figures with reputations for fascism or anti-unionism in the workplace, and right-wing judges hated within the extra-parliamentary Left. Therefore, their ‘guilt’ had a subjective dimension in that they had been over-zealous in carrying out their functions. However, the subsequent inclusion of known democrats as targets confirmed the ‘objective’ nature of the enemy.

The political culture of ‘68 was contradictory on the question of the value of human life and the relationship between politics and morality. There was a wave of protest against injustice and inhumanity in the world; its targets were not only imperialist war, but the everyday exploitation in the factory which resulted in heavy casualties (significantly, deaths through industrial accidents were referred to as omicidi bianchi - white murders), and the toll of backwardness in the south. At the same time, slogans, songs and writings expressed a desire for revenge, and a disdain for the value of the lives of oppressors and exploiters; a favourite quotation from Mao’s sayings was: ‘The death of a worker weighs heavily like a mountain, while that of a bourgeois weighs as lightly as a feather.’ The killings at Avola and Battipaglia in 1968-9 provoked mass revulsion and anger which were infused with these sentiments. What is particularly significant is that responses to exceptional events crystallized into widely-held opinions. The threshold of the acceptability of taking lives in revenge was lowered. This can be seen in the theorization of political violence within the student movement, and subsequently within the extra- parliamentary Left, but it was also an aspect of popular thinking. Workers had little time for worrying about injuries suffered by foremen and managers at the hands of the ‘red handkerchiefs’ at Fiat; these were jokingly referred to as ‘industrial injuries’.

The Red Brigades’ class view of the value of human life was, therefore, not peculiar to them. Yet they took it a stage further by purging such views of their spontaneous and contingent character, and by making them the basis for an alternative ethic. The idea of the total autonomy of the proletariat from bourgeois morality coincided with a politics in which the ends justified the means. In this schema, lives became commodities to be exchanged; the act of pardon and the act of execution were to be judged only in terms of political criteria. However, the language of the Red Brigades’ communiques contains epithets that liken the victims of their actions to animals (pigs). The very term servi del padrone is used to disenfranchise and exclude from the human community those that are ‘servile’. Marxist-Leninism is then bolstered with references to the Old Testament morality of ‘an eye for an eye’, while bureaucratic language is used to categorize class enemies.

The exaltation of violence, the last element of the political culture of ‘68-9 under consideration, was intimately related to the others but was the one which was crucial for the justification of armed action.

Political violence was propagated in the movements not only by the publication of writings by Fanon, Sartre and Latin American authors, but in the leaflets, songs and images that accompanied the social conflicts. The clashes of Valle Giulia between students and police in Rome entered the mythology of the student movement, and the popularity of the song . Violenza showed a bloodthirsty vein in the protest. Violence was not only accepted as unavoidable, but it was frequently considered baptismal and cathartic. Numerous slogans expressed these ideas. Yet violence in the political culture of the movements was more a matter of words than deeds, and it is too simplistic to assume that the one leads to the other. When violence did take place it was likely to be a by-product and resulted from mass activity, not the pre-planned action of a self-selected minority.

In fact, the Red Brigades were at first criticized for their elitism, rather than for their use of violent means as such. For example, the ‘sincere revolutionary vanguards’ were criticized by some Pirelli workers,

because they show through the propaganda of terrorism that they have no faith in the masses, and in attempting to substitute them through exemplary actions, they can only provoke further repression.

However, the line of demarcation was not always so clear. When the chief of police in Milan, Luigi Calabresi, was murdered because he was held to be responsible for the death of the anarchist, Guiseppe Pinelli, in December 1969, a paper closely identified with protest movements declared: ‘His death is the result of an act with which the exploited can identify.’

The Red Brigades began by exalting ‘mass violence’; the early attacks on property, the threatening of managers and even the first kidnappings sought to imitate things that had been spontaneously carried out by workers. The Red Brigades were attracted to those struggles distinguished for their violence, and studied historical and contemporary examples, but the actions which overtly expressed an idea of popular justice especially interested them. A particular incident that recurs in early Red Brigade documents is the so-called ‘pillorying’ (gogna) of Fascists at Trento in 1970, whereas three years before future members of the organization drove down to Cutro in Calabria where peasants had occupied land, seizing and burning down the municipal buildings. On the one hand, they were searching for a tradition that had been forgotten or censored so as to re-awaken a sleeping historical consciousness. On the other, they wanted to find modern equivalents relevant to the metropolitan capitalist situation. The notion of creating ‘proletarian justice’ was not widely propagated within the social movements of 1968-9 when people showed a preference for breaking rather than making laws. Its immediate roots were in Maoism (and its Stalinist antecedents); for example, the Cultural Revolution’s trials and self-criticism provided models. It was through the pursuit of ‘people’s justice’, the implementation of which was in the hands of the ‘armed party’, that the Red Brigades shaped their conception of violent revolution. In doing so, they moved away from the shared political culture of 1968-9. The idea of political violence which attracted the protagonists of the social movements was more likely to be explosive, elemental and passionate - in brief, romantic. The use of violence was, however, considered secondary. For the Red Brigades, by contrast, violence had a quite different status; it was the primary and determining form of struggle. In this sense, the Red Brigades became a fully and exclusively terrorist organization.

In part, the Red Brigades’ conception of the primacy of violence was founded on a disdain for human -life, and this served largely to lower the threshold at which it was thought acceptable to kill. The most critical elements in the political culture of ‘68 which combined to make terrorism a legitimate form of action were the weak sense of democracy and the ideological dogmatism. The military and vanguardist vision of the struggle for hegemony meant that politics could ultimately be superseded by force; ideological dogmatism not only facilitated the choice of armed struggle, but was its necessary condition of existence. It cemented the organization together and excluded the possibility of other political choices.

Dalla Chiesa’s analysis is largely orientated to uncovering the roots of red terrorism in a diffuse political culture. He is careful to stress that it was not a simple relationship, but a contradictory one:

conflict is the crucible in which the cultural mix [giving rise to terrorism] is brought together, and yet it is also the most solid barrier against the transformation of those elements into a coherent political project. The decline and containment of conflict, the crushing supremacy of political over civil society, and the collapse of utopianism - all these serve to free those cultural elements . . . the mass movements are therefore, because of their historic characteristics, simultaneously cradle and antidote to terrorism.

However, Dalla Chiesa overplays the elements of continuity. What remained contradictory and complex in the social movements was drastically transformed and simplified by the Red Brigades.

The sharpness of the discontinuity between the armed organization and the social movements is highlighted by the decision to go underground. Clandestinity, as Luigi Manconi has argued, represented the critical step in the formation of terrorist organizations; it was the ruptural point and point of no return.

The choice of clandestinity was, of course, inspired by an ultra- vanguardist conception of political action (in the case of the Red Brigades it was made after a heated debate inside the Collettivo Politico Metropolitano, in which the majority condemned the idea for taking power out of the hands of the masses). However, once decided upon, clandestinity brought with it a whole set of consequences. It entailed a way of life that was, de facto, cut off from the everyday experience of most people. The need for secrecy and invisibility meant that activists had to hide their political views, and avoid open political discussions. Thus, they deprived themselves of the means of testing and verifying political hypotheses and projects by discussing them with those (the working class) they purported to represent. While other political organizations had to measure them- selves in terms of the support and participation they were able to win and mobilize, the Red Brigades were only indirectly subject to such pressures. The conditions of underground life functioned as a material basis for the construction and elaboration of a version of reality which did not allow for refutation or questioning. It underpinned a logic which increasingly drove the Red Brigades to impose their own reality, and to make the world conform to their view of it.

The process whereby certain forms of political radicalism which aspire to emancipate people from injustice, regress and come to reproduce some of the worst features of the society they oppose has long preoccupied thinkers. The decline and crisis of movements, the replacement of dialogue by repression on the part of the state, the rise of irrationalism - these are just some of the explanations put forward for the rise of terrorism. Usually, the reasons given by those with sympathies for the Left tend to stress the role of external circumstances, while those more to the Right emphasize the psychological. It is, therefore, interesting to note that in Italy in the late 1970s and early eighties many analyses of the development of red terrorism have looked at the individuals involved without automatically pathologizing them. The terrorists are shown to be not ‘monsters’ but, for the most part, rational human beings who made a political choice; a choice, moreover, which made sense (that is, was comprehensible) to peers in the social movements.

Nonetheless, the red terrorist option, with its life of clandestinity and military activity, required setting oneself apart from the movements, by internalizing strict codes of behaviour and a claustrophobic morality. For example, life inside the Red Brigades obliged women to adopt male codes. It meant getting rid of ‘feminine’ attitudes and, not surprisingly, the feminist movement was regarded as petty bourgeois. The Red Brigades spoke of their choice as one imposed by the system and as ‘objectively’ necessary. Moreover, their actions, which were predicated on the idea that the social order was repressive and authoritarian, functioned to fulfil their prophesies. Their total opposition to the society in which they lived, paradoxically, made them its prisoners.

If red terrorism was partly a product of the social movements of 1968- 9, it was also their antithesis and a negation of their main impulses. The movements of the late sixties and, as will be seen, of the seventies, brought with them a rich cabaret of unexpected behaviour and experimentation, and an unleashing of individual energies. They were significant and innovatory precisely to the extent that they did not fit ideological schemas. Faced by their challenge, the Red Brigades turned away and looked for images conforming to their eschatology and desire for purity. The present and everyday realities, so important to the new movements of the seventies, were sacrificed on the altar of the past in the name of a future utopia in which society would be a planned, harmonious whole without pain and disorder. History, fortunately, does not move in such ordered ways, and the crisis of the Red Brigades in the early 1980s marks the end of a peculiarly tragic attempt to ‘make the ghosts of the past walk about again’.

20. The generation of year nine: youth revolt and the movement of '77

Between 1975 and 1979 young people in several major Italian cities entered the political scene as the protagonists of new forms of urban conflict. In Rome, Bologna, Turin, Naples, Milan and other cities, they organized themselves into collectives and ‘proletarian youth groups’, squatted in buildings and carried out autoriduzione (that is, fixed their own prices) of transport fares and cinema tickets, set up free radio stations. At the height of the movement in 1977, tens of thousands of young people were involved in mass protest and street battles with the police.

From February 1977, students mobilized against the legge Malfatti, which included a quota system breaking with the principle of the mass university established in 1968, occupying universities and holding demonstrations, such as the 50,000-strong one in Rome on 19 February. Then, on 11 March a demonstrator was shot dead by a policeman in Bologna. Had Francesco Lo Russo been killed in Milan or Rome his death would have provoked less outrage, but the fact that he died in Bologna gave it a special significance. This regional capital prided itself not only on its cuisine and relative peace and prosperity, but on its Resistance traditions and its good government secured by successive Communist administrations. However, the shooting and the subsequent patrolling of the streets by armoured cars evoked an image of the Communist Party as the party of law and order which did not tolerate dissidents. Protest, therefore, became increasingly anti-Communist, culminating in a three- day conference/event in September when Bologna was ‘invaded’ by the protagonists of the youth movement from all over Italy. Furthermore, the tragedy fuelled the number of those on the Left advocating and implementing political violence, so that before the end of the year the rise of terrorism dominated the horizons of the social movements.

It is misleading, however, to interpret the events only in the light of political violence. The novelty of the new movement sprang from its assertion of a ‘youth identity’, which had been repressed or displaced in the student and worker politics of the late sixties and early seventies. But that identity was not perceived exclusively in terms of a youth experience or situation; rather it was taken to be emblematic of a situation typical of the modern metropolis. Youth was made to signify exclusion, marginality, and deviance. To be young and working class in a city like Milan meant living in the housing estates of the outskirts (periferia) and making a living on the margins of the labour market. In official discourse, this situation was described as a ‘social problem’ and a ‘sickness’ that needed to be cured (once, that is, young people began to protest). But, in the language of the movement itself, the identity associated with deviance and marginality was claimed and appropriated by its participants. The ‘Metropolitan Indian’, who wore war paint and uttered transgressive chants, did not ask to be ‘integrated’; s/he mocked Western ‘civilization’ and its values. The unemployed asked not for the right to work, but for the right to develop their individual capacities and to enjoy themselves.

The movement of ‘77 was almost as much a surprise to the New Left, which had grown up in the post-‘68 years, as it was to the traditional Left, headed by the Communist Party. Indeed, the ‘generation of the year 9’ (to use a mock version of the Jacobin calendar with reference to 1968’), were also reacting against the older generation. The veterans of ‘68, and especially the ‘leaders’ or father-figures, were variously described as people who had made a career out of their radicalism, ‘sold out’, become mentally sclerotic through excessive orthodoxy and/or nostalgia. The Italian words sessantottista and sessantottardo (sixty-eighter) evoked an image of the ‘has-been’. That sense of difference was expressed in a variety of ways, and age was only a factor in so far as it was perceived in terms of ‘dated’ language, inappropriate style of presentation and so on. However, the reaction was mainly against the ‘institutionalized’ forms later assumed by parts of the ‘68 movements, notably the organizations of the extra- parliamentary Left. In fact, a movement which claimed to represent a complete break with ‘68 was, ironically, still heavily dependent on ex- sixty-eighters for its intellectuals, leading activists and half-submerged infrastructure of the ‘alternative’ city. Above all, the fringes of the earlier movement now came to occupy a central place in the new cycle of protest. Yet these previously marginal currents represented polar opposites, in that the blanket term used to describe the new politics - autonomy (autonomia) - covered both the so-called ‘creative’ wing (whose ideas came from artistic avant gardes and the women’s movement) and the organized/armed autonomi (who were sympathetic to the actions if not the ideas of the Red Brigades). Pulled between these two poles, the development of the movement saw the ‘emergent’ and the ‘residual’, the ‘new’ and the ‘old’, the ‘alternative’ and the ‘oppositional’ intersect, separate and conflict in highly complex ways.

Youth Protest in the Making

Youth politics developed in the 1970s out of a counter-cultural environment similar to that in which feminism took root, but it was primarily male. It was the libertarian and counter-cultural currents coming out of 1968 which incubated many of the ideas, and experimented in the lifestyles that anticipated developments in the mid seventies.

In Milan, the forerunners were associated with two influential reviews, which developed a national readership - Erba Voglio and Re Nudo, which were both set up in 1970. Their titles give a clue to their identities : Erba Voglio refers to the saying : ‘The grass I want doesn’t even grow in the king’s garden’, while Re Nudo alludes to ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’; they affirm children’s desires and knowledge in the face of authorities, both familial and state, that attempt to deny them. Both reviews opened themselves to the debates of the early feminist and gay movements. But Re Nudo was more important for the formation of a specifically youth politics. It had an extensive circulation (in the summer of 1971 it was reported to sell eight thousand copies in Milan alone), and that figure has to be multiplied to get the number of readers. It also promoted free pop concerts, which drew tens of thousands. Re Nudo proclaimed: ‘Proletarian youth of Europe, Jimi Hendrix unites us.’ Its pages contained a mishmash of American Underground drugs and ‘peace-and-love’ thinking, Reichian notions of sexual liberation, manifestoes and com- muniques from the Weathermen and Red Brigades, and Communist visions of cultural revolution. One of the gurus of the Italian Underground (later a convert to Eastern mysticism), Andrea Valcarenghi, summed up the hybrid ambition of this project in the hope that ‘the Mao of Western Marxism will grow the long hair of American counter-culture’. Strangely enough, this idea was not so far fetched in the Italian context, and added another chapter (or page) to the country’s history of importing cultural goods and models from the United States. But, above all, it meant adapting ‘alien’ practices to Italian conditions, which, in the early 1970s, meant making them politically left-wing.

At its first national conference the Re Nudo collective could claim to have popularized three positive aspects of the underground experience: 1. The organization and generalization of the struggle to reappropriate free time, which reached its climax with the clashes at pop concerts in 1971-2, when the bosses of the music world were forced to reduce the price of tickets for young proletarians. 2. The creation of free, self-managed events and spaces, such as the festivals and counter-cultural centres. 3. The radical critique of the extra-parliamentary Left’s personal politics, and the recuperation of the themes of anti-authoritarian revolt originating in ‘68.

When Re Nudo was first published, it addressed itself to a readership that was considered to be primarily ‘petty bourgeois and student’, but, by June 1971, it was talking about its public as ‘young proletarians’. This term quickly entered into circulation. Although the organization of the extra- parliamentary Left consistently attacked Re Nudo for its ‘remoteness from any form of organization or relationship to the workers’, its insistence on the need for a politics of the ‘interpersonal, the personal and the every- day’, was often more appealing to working-class youth than the sermonizing of the Left. Nudo had its finger on the pulse of the emerging politics, and addressed the problems of young males living in the big cities. And, in the process, Re Nudo had its part in precipitating the crisis of the neo-Leninist groups by giving vent to the dissatisfaction and frustration within them. Although feminists provided the most coherent critiques, the counter-culturalists directed their fire at the moralism which underpinned the militants’ sacrifice of the ‘private’ in the name of the ‘public’ sphere. The dissolution of this model of political activity was seen as a pre- condition for the opening up of politics to the lives of those excluded from its coded discourses. The student experiences of ‘68 were always principally of a university-based movement, and were often a closed book to the next generation. Although the exponents of Re Nudo belonged to the ‘68 generation, they realized this could be a limitation when it came to communicating to a younger generation, and were therefore better at it than those who were unaware of the problem.

Youth had come to mean something quite different by the mid 1970s from what it had meant in the late sixties. Firstly, the distinction between the ‘adult’ world of regular waged work and youth’s transitional situation hardened; the absence of work (or work to match qualifications), and the prolonging of the educational process extended the period of being young of necessity rather than from choice. Then, the divisions between working-class youth and the traditionally middle-class or lower-middle- class student diminished due to the massive expansion of further education, and due to some convergence in their situations. Luigi Manconi and Marino Sinibaldi wrote:

There is a dense network of connections and overlaps between the students’ movement and sectors of the proletariat … the ‘strange’ figure of the student crops up in the disputes involving door-to-door booksellers, squats of empty property, and in the shape of the unemployed intellectuals going to the labour exchange . .. s/he appears equally as the ‘strange’ worker with the diploma, or the organized unemployed, who study in the 150-Hours Scheme, or go to evening classes.

The youth movement that emerged in the mid seventies was a composite of young manual and white-collar workers, and absentee students. In Milan, an in-depth study of two youth groups showed that one in every five was a manual worker (clearly a minority), but that two- thirds were from manual working-class families. The movement called itself a movement of ’young proletarians’, unlike the student movement of 1968, which tended, instead, to make demands on behalf of the working class (for example, for greater access to universities). In one Milanese youth group there was even a ban on the participation of non-proletarians because of the fear of being taken over by intellectuals from outside. However, the youth movement was a melting-pot of social and cultural experimentation in which the notion of a ‘separate’ working-class culture was refuted in practice. In this respect Re Nudo played an important part in introducing ideas from the American Underground, which were largely foreign to Italian working-class life, and appropriating forms of ‘consumerism’ for an oppositional politics. This also meant undercutting many of the ideas, reinforced in the 1968-9 movements, about the need to create an uncontaminated working-class culture.

The changes in the position of youth in the big cities and in their perception of their situation as a group, created a ‘crisis of representation’. This was particularly acute in the case of the political organizations of the Extra-parliamentary Left, which had been formed mainly through the recruitment of young workers and students. The youth movement did not invent a politics ex novo; for example, it adapted forms of action such as squatting and autoriduzione. Nonetheless, it gave these actions a different purpose and meaning. By examining the forms of action that the movements developed in the period 1975-8, it is possible to explore its particular characteristics.

Taking Over the City: Squatting, Autoriduzione, Free Radio

Squatting was an important form of action for the movement. Squatting had spread in the mid seventies so that in February 1976 an estimated 1,500 units of public housing were occupied. Squats were not now restricted to housing but spread to premises useful as political and cultural centres. In other words, ‘needs’ were being redefined to mean more than having a roof over one’s head. This was particularly the case with the youth groups which started occupying buildings in Milan in early 1975, and had established fifty centres in the city by the end of 1977, involving about 2,000 hard-core squatters, and 3-5,000 occasional participants. A few houses were also occupied; a manifesto issued by a ‘youth coordination group’ declared:

We want to live differently from families, and we want to avoid reproducing the same roles within the relationships in the community .... We want to live as we choose.

This experiment was relatively isolated, as had been the previous ones attempted by the Re Nudo collective. But it expressed a more widespread desire to transform personal relations and win individual freedoms.

In the squats relationships were given priority as ends in themselves. Particular importance was attached to ‘being together’ (stare insieme), and to the exploration of interpersonal dynamics through consciousness- raising. Most activities were pleasure-oriented, with special emphasis on active participation and ‘creativity’. In the absence of municipal provision, photographic and music workshops, yoga classes, and so on, assumed ‘alternativist’ connotations. The very act of taking over a building and running it developed political attitudes.

Although most of the squats were peaceful, some involved ongoing battles with the police, and the threat of eviction hung over all of them. There were also internal dangers, especially heroin addiction which was becoming a major social problem among the young in many cities. Propaganda campaigns through the groups’ news-sheets and the provision of help and counselling became a key activity of many of the centres in their desperate attempt to substitute and counteract the repressive measures taken by the authorities against addicts. Social problems were, therefore, continually being defined as political battlegrounds.

Although the social centres of the youth groups were independent of one another, there was a sense of belonging to a movement and sharing common goals. The movement’s project was to create a

different, non-violent and non-competitive politics, which breaks with the cult of leadership and seeks to build egalitarian relationships between men and women comrades.

This alternative sociability was celebrated in pop festivals, such as those held under the aegis of Re Nudo at the Parco Lambro in Milan. In 1976, the youth groups in Milan organized a Festival of the Spring, which claimed to revive the pagan and popular tradition of celebrating the ‘rebirth of life, renewal and the wish to fulfil needs and desires’. This was a tradition, it further claimed, that ‘bourgeois civilization’ had destroyed in the name of the work ethic. The Festival’s theme was ‘Let’s take control of our lives’ (riprendiamoci la vita); it was part-carnival and part-pop concert, plus a lot of eating, drinking, dancing and dope-smoking.

These festivals and events were expressions of a revolt against the ‘ideology of crisis’ and the austerity plans propounded by both the government and the Communist Party which included a reduction in the number of feast-day holidays. Opposition to these measures drew together disparate forces around the themes of work-refusal, a shorter working week, and demands for the immediate gratification of a series of ‘needs’ irrespective of work done. In brief, it was a coalition of counter- culturalists and operaisti based on the principle of ‘each according to his needs’ as opposed to ‘each according to his abilities’. Although there remained fundamental differences between these currents on the means and types of action required to develop the movement, they were united in rejecting the ‘ideology’ according to which ‘labour is the fundamental value in social life and in progress. Moreover, they questioned the idea that time itself should be organized around the requirements of the productive system rather than in accordance with the needs of human fulfilment. This attitude to waged work did not consist simply of theoretical disquisitions (though there was no shortage of these). Thus, during the enactment of a job-creation scheme for youth in Milan in 1977, eight out of ten job offers were turned down by applicants. What was anxiously debated in the press as ‘disaffection from work’ could be explained by a number of factors - the growing disparity between the qualifications of the job applicants and the jobs on offer, the preference of some for a life of petty crime or casual working (what was known as the ‘art of getting by’ - l’arte di arrangiarsi) and so on. However, individual choices were made in the context of a movement of ‘young proletarians’, which did not ask for entry to the ‘adult’ world of work, nor call for the ‘right to work’.

The youth movement in Italy developed forms of action (or inaction) which had little to do with the world of work, or were overtly ‘anti-work’. Its writings celebrated absenteeism, non-cooperation, sabotage and wildcat strikes as expressions of workers’ desires for communism which was defined as the ‘abolition of waged work’. It was around consumption and leisure activities that the movement of the ’young proletarians’ developed its specific forms of action and established its collective identity.

Autoriduzione of tickets at pop concerts had already been carried out ‘spontaneously’ in Milan in the early seventies. In September 1977, at a Santana concert in Milan, the practice became formalized; youth groups assured the organizers that the event would not be disrupted in exchange for a fixed price reduction. Earlier, in October 1976, youth groups launched a campaign to force cinemas to reduce ticket prices. A leaflet of the youth groups of zona Venezia declared:

The defence of the living standards of the masses also means establishing the right to a life consisting not just of work and the home, but of culture, amusement and recreation.

The struggle was, it continued, against the monopoly of film distribution and the screening of "fascist, anti-feminist and qualunquista films. In Milan, about half of the cinemas were concentrated in the centre, and these belonged to the luxury category, while the cheaply-priced cinemas of the outskirts had all but disappeared. In support of their demand for municipal control of cinemas, backing for youth groups and an immediate flat-rate for all tickets, the groups issued tickets themselves. Seven cinemas were hit by autoriduzione, but the campaign failed to gain concessions. The president of the Cultural Commission of the Comune accused the movement of

favouring irrational, individual rebellion that only divides citizens . . . wanting everything at once, even what it is wrong to want, grabbing at whatever is at hand on board a ship that is sinking.

However, the very obduracy of this response confirmed and publicly underlined the exclusion that was being protested against.

Civil disobedience was at the heart of youth protest. Rule-breaking and the disruption of the routines of city life were practised almost as an art- form - an art-form which fell into the grey area between crime and politics. Classroom behaviour was translated into street politics, and authority in all its guises was held up to ridicule or humorous banter. Yet disruption was more than a last resort of the powerless. It was a means of expression and a source of entertainment, unlike much of the politics offered by the political parties and unions. The slogans of the movement of ‘77, which were notable for their irony and wit, illuminate this dimension of youth protest.

Umberto Eco commented on the change in semiotic strategies of social movements, contrasting how students, on the one hand, and workers on the other, formulated their slogans against the corrupt government:

At a recent demonstration the students chanted: ‘Gui and Tanassi are innocent, the students are delinquents.’ The irony and provocation are clear. Immediately afterwards a group of workers took up the slogan to demonstrate their solidarity. But they translated in into their own model of intelligibility: ‘Gui and Tanassi are delinquents, the students are innocent’. It was not because they were incapable of understanding the irony, but because they do not recognise it as a means of political expression.

Experimentation with slogans was part of a counter-culture in which the idea of ‘transversality’ was a vital component. Dadaism, surrealism, the American Underground, all fed into an eclectic poetics of revolt with its special brand of inspirational leaders with names like ‘Bifo’.

A favourite tactic was to take the inherited wisdoms of the Left and turn them on their heads. The Communist Party, in particular, was a target. Its thunderings against the ‘new irrationalism’ and its ‘plague- bearers’ (untorelli) were taken up in a complex battle of signs. The Volsci youth collective in Rome wrote of themselves in their paper:

We are adorers and worshippers of the P38 magnum, we are abetters and henchmen of terrorism, we are pre-political, unruly barbarians, and we are the so-called raving and desperate adventurists.

Other slogans were ironical about the repression of the movement:

A hundred policemen per faculty - send the whole army to university (Cento poliziotti in ogni facolta’ - tutto l’esercito all’universita’)

Lama star, Lama star, we want to make sacrifices (Lama star, Lama star, sacrifici vogliamo far) to the tune of ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Free radios are a provocation - all power to the television (Le radio libere sono provocazione - tutto il potere alla televisione)

The slogans were invented using all sorts of materials, including advertising jingles and popular songs. However, it is worth noting that the importance attached to slogans in the first place, and then the rhyming and vocabulary, exploited the traditions of the workers’ movement, and more specifically the post-’68 language of politics. Transversality could only operate in an environment in which the forms to be parodied were already common currency.

To this could be added a more general observation about the role of words in the social movements. In 1968-9 there was an explosion of the printed work as leaflets were roneoed, news-sheets and papers set up, posters plastered to walls; equally, there was an outpouring of the spoken word as meetings multiplied in factories, schools and squares, often lasting for several hours. The combination of the belief of the workers’ movement in education, the widespread ‘scriptural’ attitude to Marxism and the mobilization of students gave a special impetus to political proselytizing with a pedagogic edge. In the mid seventies, this upsurge had been consolidated in the shape of alternative bookshops, small publishers, a multiplicity of journals and sheets and, last but not least, a stratum of activists skilled in producing leaflets, posters and so on. The youth movement, like the women’s movement, could, therefore, draw on a wide range of skills and resources in a city like Bologna or Milan.

But the medium with which the movement became identified was radio. Free radios were set up all over Italy in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s ruling which declared that the state monopoly of the airwaves was illegal.

That decision was made in July 1975; within a year some eight hundred stations were broadcasting. The majority of these were purely commercial ventures, but in the context of the social upheavals, radio played a significant role as the sounding board and cultural laboratory of the new social movements. It seemed that Brecht’s notes on the socialist potential of radio, which were the guiding inspiration of Italian enthusiasts on the Left, could be given practical effect. Radio would, according to this perspective, deal with ordinary people’s rich store of experiences, and address the ‘real life’ problems which the media tended to ignore. Radio would be opened up to contributions by non-professionals. Most importantly of all, the technology was thought to have the potential for making every receiver into a transmitter, thereby replacing the vertical, hierarchical structure and one-way flow of messages with egalitarian organization and horizontal and multiple flows. If in 1968-9 the modern media were seen as an inextricable part of the capitalist and consumerist culture and the enemies of the movements, the utopian enthusiasm for radio helped drastically to change that attitude. Radio Alice in Bologna and Radio Popolare in Milan, did indeed establish a relationship with the audience which was very different to the one people had come to accept as automatic. John Downing illustrates the difference with the example of the ‘phone-in’:

The bourgeois stations generally have a delay-device to put people’s voices on the air some seconds after they have actually spoken… it enables quite effective censorship .... Furthermore, phone-ins are cast very often in the form of interviews with a linkperson. Thus, as a member of the Bologna A/Traverso Collective once put it, they become like a crossword where the person who phones in is faced with something resembling numbered blank squares which have to be filled in with the single correct answer .... By contrast, from a revolutionary radio perspective, the telephone means that a studio is not essential for public debate. It means immediacy, the most dramatic case being that of Radio Alice during the Bologna insurrection .... People can read poetry over the air, sing songs and sometimes speak from workplaces.

This new approach made radio more accessible, enabling members of social groups unlikely to write letters to newspapers to have their say in public, reaching a large audience. Those disadvantaged within a culture which gave priority to the written word, were now seen as rich in oral culture. Special programmes were compiled by and for young people, by and for women, and by and for workers in dispute, while making their problems and ideas known to all listeners. Swearing, denunciation, confession, bearing testimony - an ‘unheard of’ reality was breaking through taboos and codes. At the same time, new techniques in inter- viewing on location were experimented with, taking reportage into the streets and factories. The types of music, especially from America, which the RAI never played, suddenly started filling up air-time. Radio stations themselves seemed to float on a tide of enthusiasm bringing in volunteers, people with records or instruments they wanted to play. Some stations, of which Radio Alice was the most infamous, experimented with language, using a ‘non-sense’ of music and words to ‘go through the looking-glass’, and not ‘mirror’ the ‘world outside’. In its own words:

Radio Alice will give a voice to anyone who loves mimosa and believes in paradise; hates violence but strikes the wicked; believes they’re Napoleon but knows they could just as well be aftershave; who laughs like the flowers . . . to smokers and drinkers, jugglers and musketeers, the absent and the mad.

Sadly, the fortunes of many of the stations depended too heavily on goodwill and too little on sound finances. However, their demise needs to be related to several factors, including their closure by the police, as in the case of Radio Alice. Not least, was the link between the radios and the mobilization of protest which meant that when the movements declined, so did the audience’s size and contribution. Only those with the backing of unions and subscribers, like Radio Popolare in Milan, managed to survive and develop the necessary professional skills and organization which the Brechtian approach had disregarded.

The free radios’ failure to articulate and develop autonomous practices should also be seen in relation to the nature of the sub- and counter- cultures in Italy in the mid seventies. Radios could not, of course, create what did not exist in their environment. And that environment in Italy was dominated by a highly politicized subculture, which had arisen in the wake of 1968. This can be highlighted by comparing it to the British situation for the same period. While in Britain youth protest was primarily expressed through music, dress and a reworking of youth sub-cultural forms (punk, for instance, was contemporaneous with the movement of ‘young proletarians’), in Italy a youth subculture had to be invented out of the raw materials of a political subculture (versions of ‘autonomy’), with imported elements added. In the latter, cultural spaces and activities were quickly consumed or converted under the pressures of political action. In the Italian context ‘alternative’ practices were invariably ‘oppositional’ and politicized. In the late 1970s, the intolerance of the Italian state, on the one hand, and the vitality of the oppositional political subculture, on the other, tended to narrow down the field of conflict. Above all, the theatre of violence imposed its rules on the actors of the social movements.

Two Societies?

Elements of violence were present in the youth movement from an early stage because of its adoption of direct action methods, such as squatting and autoriduzione, which often involved confrontation with the police. But violence remained accidental, sporadic and largely defensive, and the primary concern of the movements’ participants was to create a cultural and social space for themselves within the city. However, in 1977, the situation changed; a vicious spiral of political violence and repression divided and undermined the movement.

Bianca Beccalli has analysed the process in terms of the blockage of the local political system; the left-wing junta, elected to govern Milan in 1975, was consistently hostile to the demands of the youth movement. They were identified with extra-parliamentarianism, and were not, therefore, considered legitimate. Furthermore, local government found it difficult to deal with issues such as heroin addiction, which involved questions of principle, and which needed to be referred upward to national leaderships. Consequently, the movement was defined as ‘irrational’ and incapable of dialogue. It was first ignored, and then met with repression.

The justification by the Communist mayor of Bologna of the killing of Franco Lo Russo (during a demonstration in March 1977) was the most dramatic instance of the breakdown in communication between the movement and the local institutions. The effect on the movement was to drive it into a confrontational politics; this resulted in the growth in credibility and influence of the so-called Organized Autonomy (Autonomia Organizzata), who saw violence against persons and property as the main means of escalating the conflict. This strategy gave them the power to set the agenda for the movements’ discussions by simply imposing them. The problems of military strategy, political line, and state repression were made into the key issues."‘ A new version of the neo- Leninist politics, against which the youth and (as will be seen) women’s movements had struggled, asserted itself.

The movement’s space for manoeuvre was cut away. The refusal of local government to grant financial aid to the social centres, and to make reforms taking demands from below into account, meant that many projects collapsed, or ended up as little more than the ‘self-management of misery’. Centres were abandoned and the campaign against heroin addiction given up. Those in the movement were presented with the stark choice between withdrawing into private life - this was the time when the ‘culture of narcissism’ exploded on the scene - or of supporting the politics of the armed organizations.

The crisis of the movement has been graphically described:

A monumental political immobility today fires the desperate flight into the gothic landscape of urban terrorism, leading in turn to a further retrenchment over law and order and the defence of the state institutions .... The symbolic dissolution of the extra-parliamentary Left group Lotta Continua on the thorn of feminism; the scattering of the student movement that had briefly survived around the issue of state repression around 1977; the subsequent exodus into the innumerable niches of the ‘private’ seem to nail inherited politics to an increasingly narrow horizon. Elsewhere, a narcissism, which is incipient to much intellectual activity morbidly fixes itself with its own doomed stare. Critical activity is frequently plunged into a cul-de-sac of perpetual mourning, stretched across the abyss between a world that has been lost and a future which refuses to arrive.

It was a crisis which imploded with the forms of youth- protest. But it was also more general to the oppositional social movements, which were subjected to the same doom-laden atmosphere, filled with dreams turned to nightmares, chiliasms of hope to despair. Between the politics of terrorism and state repression, there was little space for social movements. For thousands, the journey which began in 1968-9 and its immediate aftermath, ended a decade later inside, or within the shadow of prison- walls. Indeed, the prison emerged as a powerful metaphor in the political discourse of protest - not as the sign of rebellion as in the late sixties but of the omniscience of power.

The ‘defeat’ of the ‘movement of ‘77’ marked the end of a historical phase of mass mobilizations which began in 1968. The politics of terrorism, based on ‘residual’ conceptions of the vanguard party, the historical destiny of the working class and the inevitability of violent revolution, triumphed over the emergent forms. Terrorism represented a particular dead-end, but it also illuminated a more general crisis of oppositional politics. It was a crisis of a particular model of political action. Alberto Melucci has written:

This situation has been interpreted almost exclusively in terms of a withdrawal into private life (riflusso) .... But I believe that . . . it was only a certain politics which prevented important transformations .... To continue to evaluate these phenomena negatively on the basis of a party organization model means not to understand the changes taking place.

In 1968-9 the unions and, subsequently, the Communist Party adapted in order to represent the new oppositional forces in society, such as students and immigrant workers in the big factories. The challenge from the New Left helped revitalize the traditional Left. However, in the late seventies it seemed that a historical shift was making itself felt that presented a much more fundamental challenge to their hegemony of oppositional politics. Alberto Asor Rosa, first a founding father of Italian operaismo, and then a leading Communist Party intellectual, wrote one of the most controversial commentaries on the crisis in progress. In 1977, his ‘Two Societies’ articles claimed that a new social reality had grown up outside the universe of organized labour:

Between these two realities - the organized working class and marginalized, unemployed youth - there is a deep divide. This appears in their behaviour, political choices and forms of organization in the Italian and, perhaps, in the European situations.

For Asor Rosa:

between the system and the forces of student agitation there stand only the unions and the PCI, which represent the first society - the organized and productive one . .. they are the only institutions commanding respect in the whole Republic.

While he insisted that the idea of the ‘two societies’ was metaphorical, Asor Rosa gave a striking picture of a world in which the traditional forces of opposition are in the position of defending the Republic against incipient chaos. The movement of ‘77, which on 17 February of that year prevented Luciano Lama, the general secretary of the biggest union confederation, the CGIL, from addressing a rally at Rome university, was a sign of the times. It was seen, in fact, as an extraordinary symbolic moment. In 1968-9 trade union leaders were heckled and abused, but even then the movements entered into a kind of dialogue with the workers’ organizations. Here, by contrast, there was no language in common between Luciano Lama (‘Lama non l’ama nessuno’ - Lama is loved by no one) and the students occupying Rome University. It was this incident that provoked Asor Rosa’s articles.

Asor Rosa’s concern in writing about the workers’ organizations’ failure to represent the non-garantiti (the ‘second society’ which was not protected by state legislation nor by the unions) was that they should extend their area of influence to all forces in society. His aim was to rebuild the bridges between the social groups, as had been done in the wake of ‘68; this meant playing the role of the critical intellectual who connected up different cultures:

The pressing problem today consists in asking if and what relationship can exist between the culture which is the expression of the working class, and the culture which essentially wants to ‘represent’ the crisis of the system. . . I am convinced that the workers’ culture can comprehend the culture of crisis - just as the working class is able to comprehend (com-prendere) - to make room for - the rebel, the marginal, the socially outcast, who are a part of its past and who have been its archetypes, even though this might have been forgotten.

For Asor Rosa, the ‘dissident’ Italian and French intellectuals, who interpreted the ‘marginals’ refusal to be integrated as a new form of politics, were simply re-editing a version of ‘third-worldism’; they were identifying any group which fell outside the system’s mechanisms of reproduction as positive: in the 1960s, it would have been the Vietnamese; in the late 1970s it was the poor and excluded within the metropolitan heartland. For him, instead, the problem was how to integrate them within the cultural sphere of the workers’ movement.

This response to the movement of ‘77 was more intelligent than that of many other intellectuals and politicians on the Left, who sympathized with those taking a hard line against ‘irrational’ protest, which they treated as coterminous with terrorism. However, the axioms of Asor Rosa’s argument were not very different. For him, the problem was to assert the centrality of the industrial working class, and to cast the mantle of Communist Party hegemony over all the forces of opposition within society. The ‘infantile’, regressive and intellectualistic forms of rebellion had been historically superseded by the disciplined ranks of the labour movement, and this process had to be repeated in modem conditions. Opposition needed to be channelled and educated into assuming attitudes appropriate for future government. Social conflict had, in this sense, to be made political.

However, the redefinition of politics in the 1970s could not so easily be absorbed. The dissident intellectuals Asor Rosa was implicitly referring to, such as Toni Negri, were prone to romanticize the new social actors, but at least they were trying to identify what was changing rather than what remained constant in the organization of society and forms of conflict it produced. What Asor Rosa was attempting to do was to make the new order of conflicts conform to an older model. The tragic demise of the youth movement even lent this project a certain raison d’etre, given the comparative stability of the political parties and unions. However, its great weakness lay in denying the importance of the autonomy and innovation brought into being by the movements in their struggle to establish new social identities. This was most evident in relation to the women’s movement, which came to represent the most radical form of the new politics.

21. Feminism and a new politics

When Marx wrote that ‘Men make their own history .. . but they do not make it under conditions chosen by themselves’, he was no doubt referring to ‘Man’ as a universal category. However, it is a word that is also revealing of the hegemony of men in the public sphere. Women, it could be said, make history under conditions which are largely ‘man-made’. Certainly, the language of politics has historically been fashioned in male Terms. The social movements of 1968-9 were no exceptions to this. Women were active participants, but they acted as ‘students’ and ‘workers’, and seldom as ‘women students’ and ‘women workers’. Their experience of the strikes and occupations, of the open meetings and demonstrations, were, therefore, contradictory, at least in retrospect. It is from the frictions emerging from the persistence of old roles and the invention of new ones that a women’s movement developed in Italy during the 1970s.

The student movement, which was especially significant for the formation of feminism, was lived by many women activists as a great release from stifling social conventions. Parental pressures and institutional tutelage bore down heavily on women students, who were glad to escape from them through solidarity with their peer group. The social movement expressed their anger at injustices, and provided a vehicle for creating new ways of living. It entailed the learning of new skills, meeting people, discovering a whole world through discussion and reading. At the same time, there were limits put on how the freedoms could be used, and channels tended to direct the energies of women students in particular ways. For example, the assignment to women of secretarial functions was so blatant that this role was widely dubbed the angelo del ciclostile (the roneo angel). The process of social mobilization in many respects changed women’s position in relation to male peers, but the change was for the most part slight, and required a conformity to pre-existing notions of comradeship.

However, it was this change of situation and the assertion of ideas to do with equality and freedom which made long-established injustices intolerable. To duplicate hundreds of leaflets at the behest of some student leader or political activist seemed, suddenly to be a form of complicity in the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be communists.

Feminist anger and criticism were directed first of all against male student activists, who were seen to reproduce dominant values. Although the causes of the women’s movement need to be related to a number of structural changes in women’s access to education and the labour market, not to mention cultural developments, the initial grievances were directed at the men around them. The ‘salesmen of the new inevitability’, who did so much to explode the justifications of the dominant group in society (for example, the meritocratic ideal in education), and who provided alter- native standards with which to make political judgements, conjured up disaffection from within the movement they led. Their instruments of analysis were turned against them. In Mariella Gramaglia’s words: ‘Feminism, at least in its first political acts, came into being as revolutionary education for revolutionaries, as living proof of their limitations’. However, the women’s movement was not a simple extension of a tendency within the preceding social movements. During the 1970s, feminists wrestled with a legacy of which they were a part, but from which they increasingly sought to escape.

The aim of this chapter is to trace some of the routes taken by feminists which led out of the 1968-9 experience. Perhaps more so in Italy than in many other countries, the women’s movement after 1968 was divided along political lines. Women tended to become feminists after they had already been activists on the Left, and the differences within the wider political field were echoed within the movement. In the first section, some of the major tendencies among the pioneering feminists are briefly outlined. The purpose of this is to show how the movement began as a struggle to create a new politics out of an old one; this was a process internal to the experience of the generation who went to university in the mid to late 1960s. The next section deals with the growth of the mass movement around the abortion issue, and with how feminism established its presence in a number of spheres, including the unions and workplaces. However, the women’s movement, as the final section argues, remained marginal and antagonistic to the dominant forms of politics on the Left. So, when the latter was in disarray at the end of the decade, feminism seemed to represent a potentially alternative politics.

Pioneering Years

The idea of women’s equality was not invented by the generation of ‘68; it already had a respectable history as part of the more general struggle for democratic and civil liberties led by the Socialist and Communist Parties. The idea of ‘emancipation’ meant establishing women’s full rights as citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution, and their integration into the workforce (and thence into the mass organizations of the labour movement). In the absence of a tradition of ‘bourgeois feminism’ in Italy, this role was assumed by the Left; as Victoria De Grazia has written:

Insofar as it actively promoted the rapid and pervasive changes in custom and culture following in the wake of the economic miracle of the 1950s and 1960s, the Left, it could be argued, fulfilled the historical role of bourgeois feminism by modernizing the status of Italian women. In the process, the stage was set for the neofeminist associationalism of the early 1970s; its precedents were not so much early twentieth-century Italian feminist as post-1968 American liberationist.

When the women’s movement began, it was therefore vital for its protagonists to differentiate themselves from this tradition. Its short- comings were discussed at length, with the accent being put on its conservatism; for instance, Togliatti’s founding address to the Unione delle Donne Italiane, the PCI’s organization for women, was regularly quoted:

We do not want Communist women to distance themselves from their every- day lives, nor to renounce what I understand to be their duties . . . Nor that they should in any way lose the attributes of their femininity.

In other words, the emancipationist approach of the traditional Left was criticized for making women fit into male-dominated party structures and policies, and for overlooking the inequalities flowing from the sexual division of labour in the home and at work. It was this conservativism and reliance on the institutions which feminists rebelled against, just as the student movement had done in the late sixties.

Carla Ravaioli recalls an incident which brought the new feminism and emancipationists into head-on confrontation. At a conference in June 1970 on ‘Women and the Choices facing Italian Society in the 1970s’, she writes that:

a woman’s voice full of aggression and scandalously out of keeping with the measured decorum of the debate broke in: ‘My name is of no importance. I belong to the movement Rivolta Femminile. Over these days I have heard words like “inclusion”, “participation”, and “integration” .... It appears to me that what you want is exactly what already exists .... For you, this culture is fine. The only thing that you’re asking is that women be a part of it. The women you want are exact duplicates of the men’.

The attempt to bring women into the orbit of the institutions, without radically changing those institutions, was totally rejected by the early feminists, who worked to create a social movement opposed to them. The defiance and the language of revolt learnt in the social movements of 1968-9 clashed with the procedures and style of parliamentary politics. Yet, the need to act autonomously had arisen because of the failure of the movements to take up women’s specific grievances and aspirations.

A statement by the De Mau group (Il Gruppo Demistificazione Autoritarismo), which was founded in Milan in 1966, observed:

It is quite absurd at a time like this which is characterized by so many radical struggles by young people against authoritarianism, alienation and the division of labour, that no qualitative leap is being made in the direction of an analysis ... that discusses the position of men and women in relation to the division of labour and the rigid fixing of social roles .... You really have to ask why the anti-authoritarian movements don’t put this at the very heart of their struggles but instead remain locked into the mystique of the ‘political struggle’ .... It seems they are too involved in the male logic of the old culture they claim to be attacking.

The De Mau group was short-lived, but it was important in setting up one of the first women’s study groups. They studied the family as an institution which reproduced relations of dominance and subordination, adapting the theories of Reich, Marcuse and the Frankfurt School, and asserting the need for women to ‘define themselves’, instead of seeking integration into the dominant culture. They anticipated developments which led to the foundation of autonomous women’s organizations in 1970.

The setting up of formal organizations in the wake of the social movements (Rivolta Femminile and Movimento de Liberazione della Donna (MLD) in 1970, and Lotta Femminista in 1971-2), can partly be explained as a response parallel to that which led to the formation of so many political organizations at the time. Without the favourable conditions of mass mobilization, when small, informal collectives could be formed ‘spontaneously’ in workplaces and educational institutions, a greater degree of formalization was necessary. However, the response was even more a reaction to the rise of a neo-Leninism which seemed to reinstate authoritarian models. The feminist pioneers saw themselves as developing the anti-authoritarian politics of ‘68, and rekindling the ‘movementist’ spirit. Thus, the organizations they set up were very different in structure and methods of working from the others. As Lesley Caldwell has written, the earliest groups, until 1973-4, concentrated on the importance of the small group which practised consciousness-raising:

They attempted to confront the internal dynamics of what happens when groups of women meet together, i.e., a concentration on work within the group at a series of different levels .... So that a politics of the personal, of sexuality, of the body was organized around the possibility/feasibility of beginning to live differently now and according some weight to the relational aspect of masculinity and femininity.

It would be wrong to try and put all the various experiments in feminism into organizational boxes. In cities like Milan, there were complex webs of relationships, which owed their existence to experiences shared inside the social movement - from the acquaintance of ‘comrades’ to close friend- ships. These facilitated contacts, arranging meetings and so on. It was seldom a question of membership, as with the extra-parliamentary organizations, but rather a participation in intersecting networks and circles. Often a meeting-place, such as the women’s centre in via Cerubini in Milan, acted as a focal point where discussion would be combined with the search for new forms of sociality which did not involve men. Nonetheless, in the context of an intensely political subculture, tendencies were identified with organizations. One of the first consistently to discuss the issue of female sexuality was Rivolta Femminile.

The Manifesto of Rivolta Femminile, published in July 1970, is one of the key founding documents of the Italian women’s movement. It was uncompromising about the need for autonomy at a time when other organizations, such as MLD, were still open to men. It starts:

Women must not be defined in relation to men. Consciousness of this underpins both our struggle and our freedom. Man is not the model to be aspired to in women’s process of self-discovery .... Equality is an ideological attempt to enslave women further.

The Manifesto denounces marriage as an institution of male domination, and declares feminism to be the ‘first political stage of a historical critique ‘of the family and society’. Unpaid domestic labour is identified as the work which allows private and state capitalism to survive. Male control of women’s sexuality is rejected in the name of a ‘free sexuality in all its forms’, and the ‘right of all children to sexual play’, but the target of attack is not only the dominant ideology and institutions, but Marxism itself.

The importance of Rivolta Femminile lay in its pursuit of women’s liberation through a return to the sphere of the private, the subjective and the personal, which was seen as fundamental for understanding how power was exercised in society at large. Freedom and difference are counterposed to the idea of equality. The problems of sexuality and the family were brought to the centre of the stage. Carla Lonzi, a leading writer in the review Rivolta Femminile, developed a theory relating to sexual behaviour and forms of domination. She denounced the idea that sexual satisfaction could only, or primarily, be derived from penetration of the vagina, and canvassed stimulation of the clitoris as a way of freeing women’s pleasures from men’s control. Demands for contraception and abortion were framed in terms of increasing women’s control over their bodies and their sexuality.

The rigour with which Rivolta Femminile brought the personal to bear on every issue, and the lucidity of their analyses made many other groupings take them seriously, though it was not until 1972-3 that the themes they addressed were discussed more generally within the movement. Even then, as one feminist recalls, ‘We had no words for talking about our sexuality, and to speak of our personal problems as crucial during a meeting seemed absurd.

However, it was through rethinking the body as the site of identity and power, with the help of books such as the Boston Women’s Health Collective’s Our Bodies, Ourselves (translated into Italian in 1974), that its relegation to the ‘private’, and, therefore, ‘apolitical’, was challenged. Women’s experience and the practice of starting from one’s own experience and everyday life was counter-posed to a politics saturated in ideological formulations. Instead of a politics in which the problem was defined in terms of state power, feminism proposed a new politics based on the transformation of everyday social relations. Thus, it gave a specific content to the rather abstract notions of prefigurative and direct action propagated by the student movement.

The part played by Lotta Femminista in the formative years of the Italian women’s movement has been largely identified with their responsibility for the ‘wages for housework’ demand. While other feminists explored the cultural and social dimensions of women’s oppression, the Lotta Femminista collectives focused their attention on the ‘material’, economic exploitation of women in the home, which, they said, underpinned all the other aspects of their situation. Their analyses are reminiscent of the Pisan Theses, which had been so influential in the students’ , movement, and which helped make operaist Marxism a vital strand of thought in the social movements in the following decade. The Lotta Femminista analysis was simple but novel in its application. It applied Marxist categories to the role of women (as housewives and mothers) in the reproduction of labour-power, and claimed that a vast amount of surplus value was being extracted by capital from the female proletariat. The ordinary woman’s position was, in many respects, seen as analogous to that of the prostitute, only she did not even get paid for her services. The demand for wages was, therefore, essential for the ‘recomposition’ of the proletariat. In the 1971 Programmatic Manifesto of Housewives in the Neighbourhood, Lotta Femminista put forward the vision of a society in which the state would pay men and women for housework. There would be a neighbourhood canteen, a drastic reduction in working hours, the elimination of unpleasant work and night shifts, and the building of free and beautiful houses. A utopia fully in the tradition of 1960s utopian thinking.

In retrospect, the Lotta Femminista approach seems reductively economic. It bears all the hallmarks of a Marxism which is being used to make sense of social processes without relinquishing or adding to the categories supplied by reading Capital or the Grundrisse. Moreover, as Andre’ Gorz has observed, the demand to extend waged relationships into every area of people’s lives (thereby reinforcing the operaist idea of society as a factory) is not necessarily likely to improve their quality:

The logical conclusion of this argument is that professional prostitution is an advance over the traditional couple, and that women’s liberation requires the transfer of all family-based tasks to the public services. Emancipation will be consummated only when the full-scale statisation of relations has eliminated the family as the last vestige of civil society. This line in demands obviously conflicts with the struggle to redefine relations within couples and to achieve a balanced, freely chosen distribution of household tasks between equal male and female partners.

Nonetheless, the ‘wages for housework’ campaign provoked a consider- able debate internationally as well as in Italy, and brought the issue of domestic labour to the centre of attention.

While acknowledging the validity of criticism made of Lotta Femminista, it needs to be said that they tackled problems which were crucial. As Maria Rosa Dalla Costa’s pamphlet The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community shows, their analysis of housework and reproduction brought them to propose and theorize political action , around the problems of housing, transport and nurseries, which the main organizations of the Left treated as mere adjuncts to the struggles in the factory. They took up the campaigns of the prostitutes, who had other- wise been regarded only as victims. However, the relative marginalization of Lotta Femminista within the Italian women’s movement stemmed from their tendency to bring everything back to the ‘fundamentals’ of economic exploitation at a time when feminists were trying to deal with the complexities of relations at every level in society. While Lotta Femminista’s demands remained on paper, the activities of the radical democratic wing of the movement had much more resonance.

The Movimento de Liberazione della Donna put forward a programme in June 1970 which combined elements of the anti-authoritarian politics of ‘68 with the perspectives of the Radical Party, to which it was formally affiliated. Unlike the Marxists, they stated that it was no longer relevant in advanced industrial societies to distinguish between struggles in the ‘structure’ (economic) and struggles in the ‘superstructure’ (ideological). They were all equally valid, and liberation had to be in all spheres of life. MLD’s demands were divided into four sections: firstly, those aiming to win for women the right to control their own bodies (free contraception, legalization and liberalization of abortion with the provision of free medical services); secondly, demands against ‘psychological conditioning and models of behaviour’ (elimination of gender discrimination in schools, attacks on myths, such as the ‘ideal mother’); thirdly, demands for the elimination of economic exploitation (socialization of services, socially controlled public nurseries); and fourthly, legal equalities (civil disobedience against sexual discrimination, against male authoritarianism e.g. surnames, proposals for laws using the referendum). This perspective was important because it promoted a fight against the ‘values and behaviour’ of a society which was described as ‘patriarchal’ and ‘clerical’, as well as capitalist. Furthermore, it put forward a line of action which was neither integrationalist not purely anti-institutional, but envisaged law-making as well as law-breaking.

A radical secular culture and politics has traditionally been weak within Italian society. It has been squeezed between the forces of the Church and Christian Democracy, on the one hand, and the forces of the Communist Party on the other. Although the PCI had an honourable record in resisting Fascism and actively campaigned against repression in the wake of the 1968-9 movements, it has also shared a certain antipathy for liberal thought, which was in part common to the extra-parliamentary Left as well.

In the 1960s, radical opinion was represented primarily through publications like the magazine L’Espresso, rather than through formal political structures; the Radical Party was not refounded until 1967 (after its dissolution four years earlier). Radicals, moreover, played no significant role, as an organization, in the 1968-9 movements. However, they were well-placed to take advantage of the liberatory impulses coursing through Italian society.

The Radical Party itself had a flexible federal structure which was open to collectives as well as individuals who wanted to join it for a limited period and over specific single-issue campaigns. Unlike the democratic centralism of Leninist organizations, this allowed for a sensitivity to demands and pressure coming from social movements ‘on their own terms’. The Radicals developed anti-authoritarianism and demands for greater civil liberties - demands which other organizations treated as deviations from the class struggle. They drew on ideas coming from the United States, where the movements of women’s liberation and gay liberation were well-established before they had any counterparts in Italy. Although they remained a small force numerically, during the first half of the 1970s the Radicals took a number of crucial initiatives in conjunction with the embryonic new social movements. The most important of these centred on the issue of women’s rights.

Growth of a Mass Movement: The Abortion Campaign

The campaign in favour of divorce and abortion, and against sexual violence, which became key political issues in the mid seventies, marked a new stage in the development of feminism in Italy. The activities of the small groups, which were based on the attempt to re-think politics starting from women’s ‘otherness’ (for example, consciousness-raising), were overtaken by ‘public’ events in the traditional political arena. The sudden and massive growth in the women’s movement, which followed the extra-parliamentary Left’s adoption of the MLD’s initiatives, was problematic in many respects for the early pioneers. Rivolta Femminile, for example, rejected the very notions of equality within the male-defined institutions and polity. The idea of the family, which a sizeable part of the pro-divorce lobby said would be strengthened by defending the laws against attacks from the Church, was anathema to these feminists. It looked as if the new politics would be taken over by male-dominated parties and organizations. However, it was out of these conflicts that feminism developed, while the organizations of the New Left, which emerged out of 1968, found themselves riven by contradictions.

The demand for the right to have an abortion as ‘a woman’s right to choose’ was promoted by CISA (Centro Italiano Sterilizzazione e Aborto), following the efforts of the MLD to gain support for a campaign initiated in 1971. Of all the mobilizations, action on abortion was perhaps the most significant for the creation of a mass feminist movement. Demonstrations were enormous; in 1975, demonstrations mobilized a maximum of twenty-five thousand, while in 1976 the number rose to one hundred thousand. The collection of signatures (five hundred thousand were needed to call a referendum) ended by getting the support of some eight hundred thousand people. Furthermore, women organized ‘illegal’ abortions, and the denounced themselves publicly (autodenuncia). Abortion was a single issue, but it was one which embodied in microcosm a whole set of social conflicts.

The practice of civil disobedience and illegality brought activists into confrontation with the authorities, and challenged established procedures and values. They revealed a continuity with the ideas of direct action, control and self-management, and movement, which went back to 1968- 9. However, mobilization took off by using the referendum, which was a citizen’s right guaranteed by the Constitution. It was, in fact, the Christian Democratic Party which wanted to repeal the divorce law of 1970 that first decided to use the referendum, but it subsequently became a crucial weapon for fighting battles over civil rights. Not since 1968 had there been such a revival in grassroots political activity. But the feminist approach to the abortion issue gave a new dimension to the struggle against the authoritarian power structures in society by showing how they were organized by men and through masculine discourses.

The demand for women’s right to free and safe abortion was not exclusive to Italy in the mid seventies, and was common to several countries of the industrialized West. However, it had great implications in Italy because of the power of the Church (through the Christian Democratic Party) in relation to legislation as well as moral attitudes more generally:

The Church’s attitude to the family, in particular its insistence on the primacy of reproduction and the rejection of sexuality, has helped to create and justify a repressive set of formulations . .. and even the construction of laws which distinguish the importance of crimes according to whether they are committed by men or women.

The price paid by women was very great; in 1974, the weekly Panorama reported that all women had either had an abortion or knew of a friend who had. In circumstances in which contraceptives were not widely available, and ignorance about sex was widespread due to lack of education in schools, abortions functioned as a form of birth control. This phenomenon was not new, but was the product of centuries - a largely unspoken and yet pervasive reality, which testified to an extreme discrepancy between legal and official discourses, and women’s experience. In the eyes of the Church, abortion was a terrible sin, and for the state it was a crime punishable by a five-year sentence. But in the mid seventies, the private, individual and clandestine ‘solution’ was no longer tolerable to many thousands of women, who publicly protested their sense of outrage.

It was this dramatic emergence into the public sphere of personal experience not previously regarded as political which made the campaign over abortion quite unlike the mobilizations over labour contracts or educational reform. The role of the pioneering feminists was crucial in this respect; they prepared and anticipated the sudden diffusion of conscious- ness-raising, the search for new vocabularies with which to speak about women’s experiences, and the exploration of group dynamics. The very repressiveness of the Italian situation created conditions favourable to the making of connections between the issue of abortion and a whole complex of social relations. In Lesley Caldwell’s words:

The connections between abortion and procreation, between abortion and sexuality, between our ideas of ourselves as mothers and as sexual beings were opened up. Some groups drew parallels between the violence of abortion and the ways in which, at some level, we live heterosexual encounters and penetration as violence .... Others . , . looked at the way women live their sexuality linked to their biological potential for motherhood and what its implications are; motherhood as something both desired and refused .... They also linked our conscious and unconscious attitudes to this potential to the social conditions that prevent it happening.

In short, feminist politics transformed abortions from being a civil rights issue into a struggle over how power was being exercised in society. This process involved not just the state or the Church as institutions, but the ‘micro’ relations of power in everyday life.

Through mass mobilizations and a campaign of civil disobedience over abortion, the women’s movement established itself as a national force. Political parties looked for ways of responding to the challenge. Above all, the parties of the Left, particularly the PCI, sought to present bills which navigated the dangerous waters between the demands of the movement (and their echoes within their women’s sections), and the anxieties of Christian Democratic opinion. When, however, the legislation legalizing abortion was eventually passed in 1978, the law bore all the hallmarks of an unfavourable compromise.

A number of clauses limited women’s right to choose by making it compulsory to consult with a doctor or social worker, instituting a seven- day period for reflection, and requiring parental permission for those under eighteen. Most importantly, medical staff were given the right to conscientious objection, and this clause was effectively used by powerful opponents within the hospitals to make it extremely difficult for women to have legal abortions. In other words, the mass movement and the majority vote in the referendum counted for little when their demands were translated into the language and procedures of the institutions. As Gianna Pomata has written, the logic of the party system underpinned the ‘systematic collusion between medical corporatism and state power’; the predominantly male doctors had been given the function by the state of supervising the social control of reproduction and the exercise of power over the female patient.

Although the abortion legislation of 1978 did marginally improve women’s situation, and opened up some space within the institutions for further struggles, the results were largely delusory. However, the strength of the movement derived from its roots in civil society and its autonomy from the established representative organizations, the parties and unions. The legislative stage had always been regarded as secondary by many in the movement. In this sense, it was very different from the earlier historical movement for women’s suffrage, which focused its energies on opening up the institutions to women voters and had a firm belief in parliamentary democracy. The movement in the mid seventies was permeated by a deep antipathy for the state, disillusion with parliamentary institutions seemingly incapable of real reforms, and a suspicion of laws in general, as exemplified by the campaign around rape in 1978-9, which took little interest in actual drafting of legislation.

Instead, much more importance was attached to what could be verified, controlled, changed directly; to what was concrete and easily identifiable. In relation to medical provision, for instance, the movement worked for its own health centres created ‘by and for women’. The organizational structures the movement had given itself were not therefore, dependent on what happened in parliament. When mobilization around abortion subsided in the late seventies, organization around the issue, which had given rise to a dense network of collectives, ad hoc bodies and friendships, survived; although the movement ceased to be a force vis a’ vis the political system, it continued to be a social force.

The mass movement at a national level had anyway been characterized by particularism, localism and pluralism in its forms of organization and action. Feminists organized around questions of health, sexuality and childcare, and sought to work through their own situations at work or in the community, rather than just through general mobilizations. Bookshops such as the Libreria delle Donne set up in Milan in 1975, or reviews, like Sotto Sopra, were run by cooperatives designed to be ‘autonomous’ from immediate commercial methods and objectives, while health clinics were often self-managed and ‘autonomous’ from state provision. For the movement, the abortion issue had been crucial because it stood for a whole experience of oppression and injustice; the struggle by women for control of their own bodies was important, moreover, for establishing a sense of identity. It was a starting point for a redefinition of the objects and methods of political action and not an isolated single issue. The struggle for control of biological functions involved criticizing dominant values in society, and how these were articulated in medical, religious and political discourses. Abortion, contraception, and health care focused challenges which ultimately questioned how the ‘body politic’ itself was constituted.

Women and the Unions

The women’s movement of the 1970s was mainly composed of women from middle-class families who had gone through further education. The student movement had been the principal political experience of the pioneers of Italian feminism. While the ‘emancipationist’ tradition was still strong within the Communist and Socialist Parties and trade unions, the new feminism was largely brought in from outside in the mid seventies. That is to say, it was the women in the extra-parliamentary organizations and the women officials in the unions who acted as intermediaries between the movement and women workers. This spread of the movement and its entry (albeit with schizophrenic consequences) into the institutions of the labour movement distinguished the Italian experience from many others. This is particularly well shown by the relationship between the women’s movement and the unions in Milan. Here, the role of women identified with the ‘union Left’ (sinistra sindacale) was especially important, notably in a section of the metalworkers’ union, the FIM-CISL. They were active in the education, research and training work of the union, which expanded considerably in the early 1970s and in the 150-Hours Scheme. This brought them into contact with large numbers of shop-floor delegates, and with ordinary workers wanting to catch up on their education.

The key figure in bringing ideas of the women’s movement into the factories, however, were the women delegates. With the help of the various organizers, they were responsible for setting up women’s collectives within sections of the unions, and in establishing women’s commissions in factory councils and coordinating bodies that cut across the confederations. In 1976-7, many autonomous women’s groupings grew up in this way. Usually these efforts to get together as women met with hostility; when the Coordinamento delle Donne met in Milan it was denounced by some officials as a ‘sex talking-shop’. This was not surprising since a whole set of assumptions about trade unionism were being called in question, and normal procedures were being broken (women-only meetings, for example, were seen as divisive). The iconography of the workers’ movement and the accepted forms of discourses were no longer taken as natural.

One of the first public signs of the new feminism within the unions was the presence of several women speakers on the platform making ‘collective interventions’ at union conferences. Then, at demonstrations, women workers organized themselves in separate contingents. They carried multi- coloured banners (instead of the obligatory red ones), shouted feminist slogans and publicly celebrated sisterhood in a context which had traditionally defined itself in terms of fraternity. And in the workplace too, women held meetings separately from the men in order to talk about their own particular problems and build up confidence in themselves. There was a sense that women had to express their opinions and feelings in their own words, rather than seeking always to follow men. In fact, feminine modes of speaking and listening were counter-posed to the masculine. An account of a woman trade union organizer reveals the discovery of a new identity through language:

It was through listening to a male leader that I too would succeed sooner or later in speaking in the same way; starting calmly, to put people at their ease, accelerating with a slow accumulation of facts and then stirring denunciation of exploitation, and culminating in a rapid crescendo, enumerating struggles and initiatives .... Later, I came to see that my words had no sound . . . it was as if I was mute among other women .... Then, I spoke in my own words, laughed, got worked up, contradicted myself.

Within the unions, the application of feminist critiques meant taking apart the abstract definitions of democracy and participation which had come out of the movements of 1968-9. It was becoming clear that most of the demands and gains had not been as egalitarian as everyone proclaimed. Women’s wages were on average 12 per cent lower than those of men, while 67 per cent of women as opposed to 23 per cent of male workers were in the lowest grades. They had the worst paid, least skilled jobs and little opportunity to become more qualified. Whereas following the Hot Autumn the representation of un-skilled and semi-skilled male workers increased greatly, women remained heavily under-represented: for example, a mere 6 out of 185 officials of the metalworkers’ unions in Lombardy in 1972 were women. However, it was not until the 1970s that they began systematically to criticize the unions for ignoring their needs and aspirations. Women workers too had, in one way or another, accepted a definition of themselves in terms of class and not gender. The language and frames of reference of the unions tended to exclude or stigmatize anything which seemed to encourage division or promote differences between workers. According to their rhetoric, all workers were equal. It took the growth of a mass women’s movement in society at large to stimulate and encourage criticisms of union traditions.

Much of the initial impulse behind the criticisms came from within the union Left, which extended an existing repertoire of analyses to examine women’s situation in the modern factory. Demands around wage equalization, the reduction of grades and the elimination of piece-work, which had previously been related to the semi-skilled worker in general, were applied specifically to women workers. The issues of health and safety, and childcare provision were especially important in establishing connections between the different aspects of women’s lives. Furthermore, the analyses of the operaist tradition, which had shown that machinery and technology was not neutral but designed to subordinate the worker, were re-thought to show how they were man-made for men, and therefore excluded women from the labour process. In short, a tradition of rank- and-file militancy forged in the 1960s, and propagated by the extra- parliamentary organizations, was adapted to express the disaffection of a generation of women worker activists, who organized independently of the unions’ formal structures.

For the activists of the women’s coordinating groups, the union was still the preferred means of bringing about social change; in this respect, their outlook was fully consistent with that of the union Left. However, for feminists, it was not simply a matter of adding ‘women’s issues’ to the union’s agenda. The women’s movement had developed ways of looking at the world that subverted deep-rooted assumptions about the centrality of waged work to projects of social change. It pointed to the contradictions between women’s values and desires, and those sanctioned in the world of work. Paolo Piva, an official of the metalworkers’ federation noted:

Leaving aside domestic tasks, we find our specific nature in our sexuality and maternity, which we do not know how to incorporate into the strategy of the working class. We experience these doubts . .. in personal ways in relation to maternity. From time to time, we discover a desire in ourselves to have children, which we have to suppress, or we start to feel that in the end this work is ‘not for us’. It is then that we remember there exists a barrier which divides production from maternity. The two processes develop in separate cycles - cycles which come into conflict and are the more highly prized for excluding one another.

Traditionally, women activists had had to conform to the dictates of a ‘man’s world’, and needed to be ‘superwomen’ to stand on an equal footing with male unionists. What the new feminism proposed, however, was that the work situation should be changed to accommodate the different needs and rhythms of women’s lives.

This vision proved difficult to translate into concrete terms. A book entitled Acqua in Gabbia (Caged Water), written by two women organizers, is interesting in that it gives a strong sense of women’s estrangement from the unions in the late seventies. The water metaphor is evoked to counter-pose woman as natural force/movement/life to the cages men construct around their lives. While this recourse to ‘essences’ played an important part in establishing women’s identity (again, it is the body which is the site and symbol for this), it tended to provide a means for condemning the existing state of things rather than for elaborating an alternative. Yet the implications for change were fundamental.

A series of demands, from the call for paid time-off for childcare for both men and women, to proposals for job-sharing and more part-time work, suggested the desire for a drastic reorganization of working hours. Feminist arguments started from the premises that waged work was not the only or most important form of activity, and that it should be subordinated to human needs, and not vice versa. Behind this approach lay a utopia - the dream of a society in which people had much greater control of their time - but it also raised more immediate questions about part- time and flexible working. For the unions, however, this was tantamount to heresy or ‘playing the bosses’ game’, since they were campaigning for more rigidly defined hours within the framework of a fixed working week. Such ideas, it was said, were all very well for intellectuals, but not for workers. The authors of Acqua in Gabbia replied:

Yet, women workers don’t only have material needs [i.e. the full wage]. It could be that, on the contrary there is an uneven but positive search to satisfy other needs … many want to do other more stimulating things and to do them straight away, as their participation in the 150-Hours Scheme show .... The real drama is that, while the contradiction between consciousness of the right to live better and the deterioration of working and living conditions gets sharper, the union offers a regressive solution to the problem.

However, the utopian discourse implicit in feminist writings like Acqua in Gabbia (which, because it records interviews and discussions with women workers, reflects a more diffuse current of opinion than that of the organizers themselves) sprang up in hard times. From 1976, if not before, the union leaderships were more attentive to the pressures of party politics than to the demands of their rank-and-file, not to mention the new social movements. Their response to the economic crisis following the oil price rise was to concentrate on bread-and-butter issues, and, in the name of realism, to avoid more ambitious and risky projects. While there was a flurry of conferences, inquiries and committees on the ‘women’s question’, demands for paternity leave, fixed quotas of jobs for women, and for changes in production processes designed to accommodate women, went by the board. Nor was the language of realism exclusive to the male leadership. A new generation of women organizers stressed the need to work within the institutions, while those who looked to the women’s movement found themselves increasingly isolated. The great hope in the unions, and the labour movement more generally, as a vehicle for women’s liberation was eclipsed.

Feminism and the Crisis of the Left

1978 marked a collapse and fragmentation of the social movements and collective action. The anniversary of ‘68 was more a burial service attended by the so-called veterans than a moment of revival. The disintegration of the New Left, the integration of the unions into the political system, the PCI’s historic compromise and forfeiture of its oppositional role, the demise of the movement of ‘77 and the momentary ascendancy of the Red Brigades, were so many markers in a desolate political landscape. The term ‘riflusso’ (the reflux) was often used to indicate that the tide had turned, and that a historic phase was over. The women’s movement, too, was deeply affected by this political climate; circuits of information were interrupted and intersecting circles of friendship and acquaintance split apart. In fact the period 1978-80 became known as the ‘years of silence’ (Gli anni del silenzio). The feeling that great changes could be carried through by collective mobilization was weakened by prevailing doubts and uncertainties. Yet, while the feminist project suffered from the crisis, it was not itself at the centre of that crisis; and it was precisely this distance from the dominant forms of oppositional politics, which were the main victims, that made the movement the carrier of hopes for a future regeneration of social movements in the following decade.

During the mid seventies the women’s movement had, to some extent, already exercised this function in relation to certain social groups. The formation of a gay movement in Italy owed much to feminist examples (consciousness-raising, critiques of Left politics, social support), and its influence was also felt in parts of the youth movement. Its power was such that it was able to provoke an irreversible crisis in the organizations of the New Left by attacking their authoritarianism and affirming the priority of ‘movement’ over ‘organization’.” Its own qualities as a movement consisted of its loose, informal structures (sovereignty of open meetings, small groups); its stress on means rather than ends, and on prefigurative and direct action; and its preference for personal and ‘natural’ forms of speech and behaviour. In a sense, the women’s movement spoke to all those wanting to go back to an anti-authoritarian, ‘movementist’ politics. Moreover, the women’s movement represented a potential alternative politics to that of the workers’ movement. The differences between the practices of the women’s and workers’ movements are succinctly summarized by Alberto Melucci:

The women’s movement affirms a different freedom; it is no longer freedom from need, but the freedom to need: no longer the struggle for equality, but for difference; no longer the freedom to act, but the freedom to be. The rupture and discontinuity with the Marxist and workers’ movement tradition appear irreparable.

He argues that the questions raised by the women’s movement have effectively displaced those elaborated over the years by the workers’ movement:

It is perhaps not clear what point we have reached, but the questions of identity and difference, the precedence given to the right to be over the right to act, and the demand for living spaces free of society’s checks and interference . . . are destined to occupy a key position in the field of social conflicts.

While the feminist movement has been a movement of and for women, its effects have transformed the field of political and social action, as shown by the impact of Elena Giannini Belotti’s book, Little Girls. This study of the socialization of girls in Italy, which was published by Feltrinelli in 1973 and sold 450,000 copies, running into twelve editions, owed a great deal to 1968, giving a new edge to arguments first presented by J.S. Mill:

Legal equality, equal wages, access to all possible professions, are sacrosanct objectives which have been offered to women - at least on paper - at the moment when men have deemed it right. These rights will, however, remain inaccessible to most women until such a time as the psychological structures which prevent them from wanting and being able to appropriate these rights are modified .... The need to realize and affirm oneself as an individual, the desire for autonomy and independence which women are reproached for lacking, have already been severely shaken in women by the time the fundamental choices of adolescence have to be made.

As Alain Touraine writes, the consequences of feminism were felt by anyone comtemplating radical social change:

The women’s movement is a movement of liberation not only of women but of men by women. One of the most basic aspects is its opposition to all military and financial models of organization .... It represents a will to organize one’s life, to form personal relationships, to love and be loved, to have a child ....

It is this capacity of the feminist movement to generate new ways of looking at society, and to draw new maps with which to make sense of everyday realities, that has made observers see it as so significant a force for change. It appears (in Raymond Williams’ words) as an ‘emergent cultural form’, creating ‘new meanings and values, new practices, new significances and experiences’. Perhaps not since the formative years of the workers’ movement has there been such an interrogation of the ground-rules and language of politics. If in its early years feminism borrowed the vocabulary of ‘class politics’ - as suggested by the titles of some of its publications (Il compagno padrone, Comrade Boss; La donna sfruttata, Exploited Women) - it subsequently developed its own analyses with which to understand the particular power of men in society, through, for example, the concept of patriarchy. Psychoanalysis was especially important as an alternative to Marxism. Moreover, feminists created a new awareness of the implications of the pervasiveness of a masculine discourse of war within the Left, as seen in the terminology full of ‘fronts’, ‘lines’, ‘battles’ and the glorification of aggression. In addition, the whole notion of unity, which was often as important to the heretics as to the more established Left, was put in question. The diversity, pluralism and differences between and within the movements was made into a virtue; in the words of Anna Rossi-Doria concerning the fragmentation of the movement: ‘The aim is not to be “different" from what is “normal”, but rather to discover “normality” in difference’.

However, the idea of difference was developed within the women’s movement only after it had broken with the traditional discourse of the Left. The initial keywords were not new, except in their inflection, as with ‘emancipation’ and ‘separation’, or in their insertion into a new context as with ‘liberation’ and ‘autonomy’. The whole style of the early discourse of the movement was typical of the Left; it was

full of assertions, permeated with value judgements, and often consisted of demands. The principal preoccupation was that of adapting well-known categories to a new situation, introducing a new ‘object’ of discourse without dispensing with existing categories, as in the case of the specificity of women’s struggle within class struggle. The protagonists who spoke did not reveal themselves in what they said, made very little use of the first person, and frequent use of impersonal forms or the equally impersonal ‘we’. The interlocutor was generally an opponent - men, the institutions, the patriarchal order. It was rare for there to be a meta-discourse. Irony and ambiguity were entirely lacking.

Feminist discourse only developed original forms with the shift of the orientation from the ‘external’ (demonstrations, action in the neighbour- hood) to one centred on the ‘internal’ (consciousness-raising). In addition to the sessions of consciousness-raising, this appeared through forms such as diaries, letters, personal accounts and individual reflections on collective activities. Above all, it was the definition of a new subjectivity that was at stake - the discovery of the first person ‘I’, and an awareness of the inseparable relationship of language and social dynamics. However, there were usually two phases: an initial phase characterized by ‘solidarity among women’, in which a common identity was affirmed; and a subsequent one in which differences emerged, often exploding as contra- dictions within collectives. For some women, this transition was seen in terms of loss and destructiveness, but for many others it meant going beyond the limitations of a situation in which ‘the more subjective and experiential the discourse, the more it became indistinguishable from the most abstract and ideological forms of discourse’. Ultimately the refusal to speak because of the feeling that words failed to represent an inner identity showed up the limits of language, an important realization that was ‘not necessarily irrational or mystical but something common to everyone’s experience’. A movement which began by asserting the priority of voicing opinions and naming problems without a name found itself confronting the gap between the individual and the collective and between words and the non-verbal.

There seem nonetheless to be homologies between the development of the social movements in the 1970s and that of the women’s movement, which is hardly surprising given that their history was a shared one. The shifts in discourse discussed above had parallels within the extra-parliamentary Left; for example, the newspaper Lotta Continua made its letters page into a forum for individual testimonies in 1976-7. The questions of subjectivity and difference were widely debated. However, this development was part of a crisis for the Left, whereas for feminism it also represented an evolution of a current of thought and activity which went back to the origins of the movement.

This difference between the feminist movement and other movements had important consequences for the future. All the social movements went into decline after 1978, and collective mobilization in the 1980s never reached the levels of the previous decade. However, the women’s movement did not so much collapse as change its forms; ‘Women renounced political organization in order to survive. The history of the 1980s, marked by the abandonment of political confrontation with the institutions and by the search for new politics, has its background in the dispersion of feminism into a thousand little streams at the end of the 1970s’. Some continuity existed in the survival of collectives and consciousness-raising, but this now represented one type of feminism rather than a form of organization common to the movement as a whole.

Indeed the movement ceased to be a public force, with organizations that demanded to be recognized by parties and institutions. Instead it constituted an ‘area’ with its latent, submerged structures. Informal networks replaced national organizations and even the historic Unione delle Donne Italiane, established under PCI auspices after the war, dissolved itself on the grounds that its national and centralized structures were incompatible with the local realities of the movement. The 1980s saw the redefinition and recycling of skills, contacts and resources developed through the movement in the previous decade on the part of the first and second generation feminists. New professions emerged, especially in the service sector connected with health, and in the media. Feminists began to supply goods and services for a market they had helped to create. Above all, energies were channelled into professional activities and pragmatically making small changes rather than into mobilizing around demands for changes in state provision or legislation. Otherwise activists tended to take their feminist politics into other movements which developed in the 1980s, such as the ecology and peace movements.

Measured in narrow political terms, the women’s movement of the 1970s can be judged a failure and the turn away from traditional political concerns in the following decade can be interpreted as a consequence of this. By 1988 still only 7 per cent of the deputies in Italy were women, while the history of the implementation of the abortion law showed the power of sabotage on the part of vested interests in the medical profession. It is also arguable that it was a failure for which the movement was in some measure responsible; like other movements after 1968, its anti- parliamentarism was counter-productive when it came to proposing and enforcing legislative changes. However, the movement only concentrated on challenging the political system for the brief period of the mobilization over abortion. Its impact can best be seen not in relation to the political system but with reference to its effects on ‘cultural codes and its capacity to produce "other” meanings for society as a whole’.

If it is at all possible to speak of 1968 as opening the door on a cultural revolution in Italy, then feminism perhaps has the best claim to be the most influential agent of that change. However, the changes brought about by feminism have often been called ‘molecular’ because of the difficulty of identifying them with single events or actions. It is precisely its uncodified and everyday features which have made feminism important, as can be seen in relation to the question of language. While it is extremely unlikely that sexism in language can be effectively legislated against, for a number of reasons to do with the nature of language as a system as well as the Fascist associations of puristic prescriptivism, the new awareness of the linguistic dimensions of sexual inequalities points to the way in which feminism has questioned the most taken-for-granted assumptions. How exactly changes can be brought about in the use of language is difficult to say, yet, as Giulio Lepschy writes, the struggle to abolish unjust distinctions between men and women also has implications for how language is used: ‘It is possible to argue that, once the legal possibility exists for women to occupy a certain function, the lack of a term appropriate to indicate that function with reference to women is one of the cultural elements which, however marginally, may hamper them in their progress. Such developments might seem insignificant when compared with the aspirations of the movement. In fact, in so far as feminism shared the illusion of 1970s that social transformation could be immediate and total, it fell victim to the spiral of disillusionment and despair that affected other movements. However, it is the penetration of feminist ideas into every area of society and their effects on everyday lives which suggests that this movement, more than any other has represented an anticipation of future changes in society and the promise for a renewal of oppositional politics.

22. Some conclusions: The difficulties of keywords

The decade of Italian history which runs from 1968 to 1978 has a certain unity that can allow us to call it a period. It begins with the mass mobilizations of the student movement and ends with the movement of ‘77, when protest quickly fell under the shadow of the armed struggle. The assassination of Aldo Moro in May 1978 and the defeat of the Fiat factory occupations in October 1980 signalled the end of an era in which social movements and social conflict had dominated the language and horizons of a generation as well as the political agendas of governments. The first provoked a systematic campaign of criminalization of extra-parliamentary opposition, and the second, the victory of the Fiat management, opened the way for ideological as well as economic revival of Italian capitalism.

Against this background, instant histories were written by protagonists and commentators bent on celebrating or discrediting the politics of opposition which had emerged in the wake of ‘68. At stake was Italian society’s understanding of its recent past - a past which was to haunt it. Above all it was in the court-room that the histories were not just recounted and debated but put on trial; trials which were in effect conducted as much in the press before the tribunal of public opinion as in court in front of the judges. As Nanni Balestrini wrote of the ‘7 April’ operation against a group of left-wing intellectuals: ‘It is now a common- place to say that the operation was aimed at criminalizing twelve years of struggles by social movements together with their experiences, forms of behaviour, hopes of change, refusal to passively accept the corruptness of public life.

At the height of the terrorism emergency between 1978 and 1982, such a campaign of criminalization did indeed seem to exist. Symptomatically, the Italian title of Margarethe von Trotta’s film about German terrorism, Years of Lead (English title: The German Sisters), which came out in 1982 was almost instantly used to describe the whole decade of the 1970s, not just the closing years. Terrorism was widely equated with left-wing extremism. Writings such as those of Toni Negri were cited as evidence of incitement, while one judge claimed to have uncovered the existence of a single, all-embracing terrorist organization for whose members almost every tiny episode of violence was part of a grand design. A teleology of protest suggested the existence of a logic of progression from the violence of the picket line to that of armed struggle. ‘Utopianism’, ‘extremism’, ‘extra-parliamentarism’, ‘anarchism’ and ‘terrorism’ became interchange- able terms within this discourse of repression.

The criminalization of political opposition, a recurrent feature of Italian history since the nineteenth century, has overshadowed much of the debate on the turbulent seventies, leaving its mark on popular perceptions of a decade whose protest acquired, as a consequence, connotations of violence and irrationality. However, the most effective campaign to bring discredit on the strikes and disruption of those years has undoubtedly come from those who have claimed that they simply represented outmoded and primitive forms of behaviour.

The situation at Fiat was symptomatic of a change which was both technological and ideological. The implementation of a programme of robotization went hand in hand with a strategy of imposing mass redundancies and destroying the power of the unions - a campaign of action masterminded and enacted by Cesare Romiti. It marked a crucial phase in the decline of the industrial working class in Italy, not only in terms of numbers but also of visibility, social status and political power. In the years 1980-3 alone, employment in Fiat fell from 165,000 to about 100,000. However, the industrial workers that remained were virtually ‘dead’ as far as the media and sociologists were concerned; as Gad Lerner wrote in 1988: ‘For decades, the background noise of the factory floor ‘ had created a sort of collective guilt complex in industrial societies, and it was made into a symbol of their unresolved contradictions. Today, such contradictions are cancelled simply by ignoring them.

The silence surrounding the working class in the 1980s cannot be ascribed simply to the success of campaigns launched by big business in Italy. It is indicative of the profound social and economic transformation referred to as the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial or information society. The crisis of the oppositional politics of the post-1968 movements in the 1980s can be seen, therefore, as fundamental in nature. The basic vocabulary of the Left had become problematic; it had become difficult, for instance, for people to talk about ‘the working class’, using the singular and the definite article.

It is this difficulty of language which provides the hook on which to hang some concluding observations. All words, of course, have meanings only in so far as they are socially defined through usage. Meaning is not intrinsic to words but is generated through their relation to one another within texts, and in relation to the cultural context of their users. Words are, therefore, particularly interesting to examine as indices of deeper shifts within a culture. Moments when words drop out of usage, or enter people’s vocabularies, and when the meanings of words undergo radical transformation - such moments mark significant changes. As Raymond Williams has written:

The variations and confusions of meaning are not just faults in a system, or errors of feedback, or deficiencies of education. They are in many cases . . . of historical and contemporary substance. Indeed they have often, as variations, to be insisted upon, just because they embody different experiences and readings of experience, and this will continue to be true, in active relationships and conflicts, over and above the clarifying exercises of scholars.

And if conflict and variation is a constant feature of language, it is more pronounced in periods of radical historical change. The late 1970s represented such a period; in the words of Aldo Gargani in a celebrated book on the ‘crisis of reason’:

We call the crisis of rationality the realization that the house of our knowledge is in fact uninhabited because of changing social relations - relations between men and women, parents and children, institutions and the governed, and also our knowledge of politics, music, literature and science - is transformed. That crisis is traced in the situation in which we feel an accumulation of energies that go beyond the saturated conventions and rules which at one time coincided with the extremes of our awareness.

A central and recurrent theme of this study of Italian social movements has been the struggle over identity and recognition, over how social groups define themselves, the world around them and their place in that world - struggles in which language has been an intrinsic part. In an earlier epoch, the terminology might well have been religious; in late- twentieth-century Italy, however, it is through the language of politics that most social conflict has found expression. In the post-1968 decade in particular, left-wing politics provided the means with which to make sense of society and attempt to change it. In the words of one of the leading figures in those movements:

Far from representing a passing fever, politics was the heart and soul of ‘68. That is, political passion, the conviction that there was a link that held together and demonstrated the meaning of what was happening in the four corners of the globe; the feeling that one’s own life belonged to a destiny shared with so many others in every part of the world. In the West, after the war, political generosity, love of justice, social life itself, were left-wing. Young people in the Sixties didn’t discover the Left, they grew up inside it. When the question was asked, it wasn’t whether or not to be on the left, but how and for what kind of left.

Although this testimony does not take account of the growth of a Catholic radicalism, it does represent the dominant pattern within the movements.

As has been seen, the relationship between the social movements and the use of political language was never unproblematic. When the same leader cited above writes of ‘68: ‘The eclectic, voluntaristic and populist “Marxism” measured up to the problems it was addressing, it is a judgement which can only be valid with reference to the mobilizing power of the myths that were appealed to. At the time, words such as ‘revolution’ or ‘the masses’ served a unifying purpose, and even when sharp divisions emerged, these were always within a shared framework. If attention is paid instead to their explanatory power, the story is rather different. From the mid to late 1970s, the words proved inadequate to the sorts of new identities to which expression was being given. Moreover, there was a rediscovery of individuality and personal needs which the collectivism of the Left seemed to deny. The relationship between the first person singular, ‘I’, and the first personal plural, ‘we’, was being drastically redefined.

The changes in the meanings and usage of political terms can partly be attributed to the fluctuations between periods of collective mobilization and periods of individual withdrawal, between times when relatively greater importance is attached to public duty and times when private concerns are given priority. The swing from the highly politicized language of the 1970s to the so-called hedonistic and narcissistic eighties is a case in point, and was an especially violent turnabout in Italy due to the impact of terrorism. The rise of left-wing terrorism involved a process in which Marxist terms became debased and discredited to the point of being driven out of circulation. To pursue the monetary analogy, the language of the Left had already suffered from a form of linguistic inflation, as indicated by the pejorative label sinistrese. However, the propaganda of the Red Brigades seemed a terrible caricature of all that the oppositional movements had stood for, so that calling them ‘comrades’, as in the expression ‘mistaken comrades’ (compagni che sbagliano) meant that a word which, more than any other, represented the meeting of friendship and solidarity, private and public, fell victim to mistrust.

However, the questioning and doubt surrounding keywords in the language of the Left suggest a longer term historical change in progress rather than a short term oscillation. This can be seen by looking more closely at three of these keywords: ‘class’, ‘the Left’, and ‘democracy’. It is necessary also to look at the emergence of a new keyword - ‘nature’. Finally, there is the important matter of the relationship between the language of oppositional politics and the historical reality it has purported to describe.

The word ‘class’, in its modern sense, was a product of the period that saw the formation of industrial capitalism and the emergence of new forms of social conflict. As Williams writes:

The essential history of the introduction of class, as a word which would supersede older names for social divisions, relates to the increasing conscious- ness that social position is made rather than merely inherited.

It is arguable that an equivalent social transition is currently under way in Western capitalist countries, making notions of class derived from industrial societies inadequate, just as notions of rank were at an earlier date. Alberto Melucci, for instance, has commented on the problems of analysing the new social movements in class terms:

The term ‘class’ is not able to express the novelty of the conflicts in late capitalist societies, and should eventually be replaced… we must stop considering classes as definite empirical groups with a certain culture and way of life .... But then does it still make sense to speak of ‘class’ struggles? Yes, but the conflicts must be thought of as a network of oppositions centred on the control of development .... Classes have been replaced by a multiplicity of groups which are stratified and intersect in complex ways.

Melucci’s reservations are a reflection within the field of sociology of a situation in which the models inherited from nineteenth-century political thought are in crisis.

Within Italy the proliferation of terms to describe social position and social conflict in the late 1970s was difficult to ignore. The terms included: marginals (emarginati), emergent groups (ceti emergenti), proletarian youth (giovani proletari), minorities (minoranze), the unprotected (non garantiti), the precarious (precari), and even plebians (plebe). Some commentators even found evidence for the re-emergence of patterns of city life reminiscent of the Middle Ages. It is not that the more consolidated terms, such as working class or proletariat disappeared from political discourse - the marginal or unprotected were often defined in relation to the organized workers - but the significance of being in regular employment was that it enabled fuller participation in society. Social inequalities were increasingly perceived in terms of exclusion from life opportunities rather than of economic exploitation in the workplace. While employment remained, therefore, a key question for the individual and society, its importance derived from norms and values acquired from outside the workplace, marking the end of the ‘centrality of work’.

Some political theorists on the Left have greeted the emergence of new forms of marginality and the eclipse of the mass worker with enthusiasm. Tony Negri and Andre’ Gorz, for instance, have both seen the changes as opening up new possibilities for radical social movements. In Gorz’s Farewell to the Working Class, a ‘non-class of non-workers’, who neither identify with the idea of ‘the worker’ nor with ‘the unemployed’ but who fill the area of ‘probationary, contracted, casual, temporary and part-time employment’, are hailed as the new force of radical social transformation. Unlike the mass worker who is conditioned by the heteronomy of the factory, these new social subjects are said to seek autonomous ways of living in which waged work is subordinate to other forms of activity. They are seen as anticipating a society in which necessary work is kept to a minimum, enabling the development of a flourishing civil society where free association develops unfettered.

However, Massimo Paci, among others, has been more sceptical:

Up to the time when the conditions of marginality gave rise to innovative and conflictual social and cultural projects, if on the one hand they sometimes constituted a potential source of crises and ‘social disorder’, on the other, at other times they were a source of vitality and political and cultural change. In the current situation, there are clear signs that an adaptive-functional role is being assigned to marginality, which . .. no longer seems to bring people together in visible minorities, and involves the loss of its potential in encouraging cultural innovation, involvement and collective organization on the pan of excluded social groups.

He also insists that, historically, forms of marginality have been a recurrent if not constant feature of capitalist development, especially in Italy. At the same time, Paci too sees the need for political perspectives which are based on a recognition of the social and economic changes, proposing, for example, the idea of a social wage payable to all. The term ‘Left’ - or rather the Left/ Right opposition - lost its sharpness in the late 1970s, though not for the first time in Italian history. From the time of unification there had been many instances of convergence, which the word trasformismo has been used to describe; originally it referred to the process whereby the so-called ‘historic’ Left and Right parties which emerged from the Risorgimento tended to converge in terms of programme until there ceased to be any substantial differences between them. Then the career of Mussolini is a notorious (though not isolated) case of an extreme left-winger becoming an extreme right-winger. In the period studied here the whole question of who was on the Left was hotly debated, not least because of the multiplication of heresies and the emergence of a terrorism calling itself left-wing. There was also the formation of neo-fascist tendencies which claimed common ground with the extreme left, and the phenomenon of the cani sciolti, the label of those unloosed dogs who had exited from left organisations, latter day versions of Ignazio Silone’s ‘ex’. It was in this confusion that Elvio Fachinelli wrote his Proposal for not using the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’:

In the political field, in the narrow sense of the term, the polarity Left-Right is losing its clarity and is now used to identify and classify the pre-existing state of things. ‘On the Left’ is, therefore, what is done or happens within the political space occupied by the forces of the Left. The act of nominating is largely tauto- logical.

Fachinelli’s Proposal is symptomatic of a suspicion of ritualized categorization that was widespread. This was especially so among the participants of the new social movements for whom the concept of ‘difference’ had acquired crucial importance - difference meaning the ‘demand for the specific, the particular, the diverse, as opposed to the massification and levelling produced by consumer society’. Feminists in Italy had historically seen themselves as part of the Left but found themselves at odds with its traditions in the 1970s. The ecology movement also grew out of the Left but discovered that questions such as conservation were in the hands of political conservatives whereas Marxism, because of its conception of progress, was blind to environmental concems. Both therefore questioned whether their ideas could be put under the umbrella left-wing without radically redefining what that included. Furthermore, among philosophers on the Left there was a new interest in thinkers like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, who were associated with the Right, and growing dissatisfaction with the rationalist tradition and Marxism.

All these developments were indicative, however, of a redefinition of terms rather than of a situation in which Fachinelli’s Proposal could realistically expect implementation. The Left-Right opposition was too well-established to be so easily dispensed with - a spatial metaphor related to human perception in the same way as high and low or near and far, that has not just biological components but the whole weight of cultural tradition from the time of the French Revolution behind it. As such, the terms are lodged within the ‘collective imaginary’ of western societies and are not restricted to the political sphere. Instead, it is possible to note a process whereby the Left in Italy, and in other countries, has ceased to be synonymous with the working-class movement or with Marxism. The new movements have continued to be egalitarian in that they have aimed to win ‘horizontal’ equalities - social dignity and real equality of opportunity - without having to renounce differences due to gender or sexual preference. Their politics can, indeed, be seen as largely consistent with the struggle to amplify, specify and realize the principles first enunciated by Liberalism and then taken up by the socialist movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, many negative features that came to be associated with the parties of the Left, both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, such as statism, centralism and productivism, were rejected by the new movements. The criticism of the historic and the new Left has changed the meanings of the term not abolished it.

Democracy and control are keywords which were redefined in the wake of 1968 and remained crucial for the movements of the 1980s. This can be seen in the critique of parliamentary democracy in the theory and practice of the movements, and in the proposals for alternative democratic forms. The vicissitudes of the idea of democracy have already been analysed in relation to anti-authoritarian and extra-parliamentary politics, to grass- roots organizations in workplaces and educational institutions, and to their critical reappraisal by feminism. Yet while the movements revived and experimented with every approach from council-communism to anarchism and Leninism, they cannot be said to have produced any new body of theory. Their significance lies more in painful trial and error. For an evaluation of this and its consequences for rethinking the question of democracy, the most useful work has come from a political philosopher close to the Italian Socialist Party, Norberto Bobbio.

Bobbio’s great strength has been his ability to make explicit the political implications implicit in the major movements and transformations of the post-war period. As Perry Anderson has written, his texts form a ‘crystalline prism’ of that history. For Bobbio the most formative period was that of his participation in the Resistance, but he was also involved, in his role as university professor and father of sons on the extra- parliamentary Left, in the conflicts of the post-1968 period. As he later recalled, his initial reaction to the events of ‘68 was to see them as a threat to democracy:

For someone who regarded the Resistance as having laid the foundations of a stable democracy and of the Republican constitution, the challenge from the Left with its accompanying delegitimization of the constitution not dissimilar, except in motivation, from that which had always come from the right, was an extremely bitter surprise.

However, Bobbio subsequently came to the conclusion that the movements, unlike Fascism, represented a force for the development and extension of democracy in Italy. Above all they appeared to spread democratic decision-making to those areas of the state and civil society where authoritarianism had previously been the rule - to schools and universities, factories and offices, and even to the army and government administration. They showed up the limits of a model of democracy that was exclusively parliamentary and relied on political parties to mediate between citizens and central government. Democracy, he wrote, could be more subversive than socialism:

Democracy is subversive in the most radical sense of the word, because, wherever it spreads, it subverts the traditional conception of power, one so traditional it has come to be considered natural, based on the assumption that power – i.e. political or economic, paternal or sacerdotal - flows downwards. By conceiving of power as flowing upwards, democracy is in some ways more subversive than socialism, if we use ‘socialism’ in the limited sense of transfer of ownership of the means of production.

The post ‘68 movements therefore forced Bobbio and others of his generation to question their own assumptions. Much of his work in the following decade can be seen as an active attempt at dialogue with the protagonists of the movements, from the student movement to the ecology movement. However, he also made sharp criticism of the alternatives to parliamentary democracy that they proposed. For Bobbio, direct democracy, in particular, was misconceived on a number of grounds. Firstly, because of its impracticability; if it was feasible in simple, small- scale societies, it was anachronistic in a complex, technological society. Secondly, because the whole system of revocable mandates and representation based on particular constituencies, like the workplace, was liable to reflect partial interests and not the general interests of the citizen, and was, moreover, exposed to manipulation by leaders, as shown by the experience of the student movement in Italy. Finally, because non-stop involvement in decision-making could easily have an over-politicizing effect which, in the longer term, would provoke withdrawal rather than greater participation. What Bobbio found especially worrying was the utopian idea that somehow politics would fade away in the future socialist society as the government of men gave way to the administration of things. He suggested, instead, that politics was a condition of human existence due not only to limited resources but to differences of opinion over moral questions.

Bobbio’s critique of direct democracy in the 1970s was rooted in the debates in the movements at the time over ‘leaderism’ and hidden forms of authoritarianism, over the crisis of militancy and so on. He also found support for his arguments in the inconsistencies in demands for the extension of rights coming from protagonists who did not recognize the legitimacy of the parliamentary institutions in the first place. What body, he asked, would establish the democratic ‘rules of the game’ if not parliament, because they could not exist without being guaranteed in law? All in all, the hopelessly ill-considered, rhetorical and sometimes opportunistic conceptions of democracy championed by the post-’68 movements were mercilessly exposed to view. The difficulties, however, did not arise simply because of confused thinking on the part of those involved in the social movements, and it was their achievement to bring them to light anyway. They derived from the very attempt to combine greater democracy and socialism within a capitalist society. There was the question of exactly how much democracy would be compatible with the maintenance of private property; in Anderson’s words, ‘the space for radical reform is closed by the very properties of the economic order that calls out for it’. Moreover, especially in Italy, the failure or incapacity of the parliamentary system to respond to demands made upon it has meant that social movements continue to face great difficulties in developing a parliamentary strategy as well as trying to extend democracy outside parliament.

Class, the Left and democracy are keywords in a language of politics which dates back to the French Revolution, if not beyond it. The concept of nature, on the other hand, has tended to be subordinate, especially in the socialist tradition, and has only emerged in the late 1970s and 1980s as a crucial term. If previously reference was made to ‘natural rights’, now it was claimed that nature and other species should themselves have rights. Given the proximity in time of these developments, it is hard to assess their implications for the future of oppositional politics - whether, for example, the ecology movement represents a movement whose historical significance can be compared with the socialist one at the turn of nineteenth century. What does seem to be the case is that the ecology movement has its immediate roots in the post-’68 movements while representing one of the most far-reaching critiques of those movements.

It is obviously not possible to analyze this movement in any depth in this context, but it is perhaps worth noting the way in which nature has become a key term in contemporary political discourse, and not just in relation to ecology. As Alberto Melucci has written:

The appeal to Nature has played an important role in the formation of new collective demands. Nature appears as what is resistant to external pressures because it is not liable to instrumental rationality. It presents itself as a ‘given’, as opposed to the enforced socialization of identity imposed by new forms of domination. But there is, in this appeal, the confused perception that the natural order is a field of action, an object to be produced, and not a ‘given’. The body, desire, biological identity, sexuality are all cultural representations . . . ‘human nature’ can be produced and transformed by social action.

The contradictions and conflicts generated by the increases in human control over or intervention in natural processes is at the heart of the political developments of the 1980s. However, whereas the reality of nature and human dependence on the natural world is at the centre of ecological approaches, there has also emerged what can be called a post-modern perspective in which the very idea of an external reality is questioned. Within an Italian context this polarization, which cuts across any earlier division of politics into Left and Right, can be seen with reference to the writings of two intellectuals, Adriano Sofri and Mario Perniola, who both identify ‘68 as a watershed in the post-war period, though for very different reasons.

The writing of Adriano Sofri, ex-leader of Lotta Continua, can be taken as an example of someone whose history is intimately bound up with social movements and who now sees the ecology movement as offering the greatest hope for political renewal. Sofri makes no bones about his attachment to his past: ‘I cannot go on without briefly doing justice to a feeling too lightly dismissed - nostalgia. The Italian political vocabulary has abused the word; first making it synonymous with Fascism, and then with reactionary ecological sentiments, as if nostalgia for a less ravaged natural world was unfounded.

Apart from evoking the positive in ‘68 (the political passion, serious- ness, flexibility, eclecticism and poetry of revolt), Sofri focuses on the negative aspects or limits of the ‘Marxism’ of ‘68. These include its uncritical attitude towards forms of violence and its exclusion of women, but, above all, its abject failure to confront the relationship between human beings and nature:

Habituated to shaping cultural history, the history that is made by men (‘nature is right-wing’, as Ramuz used to say), the Left reacted badly to this intrusion of what is slow, immutable and ‘natural’. Faith in discontinuity, in the political genetics of modern man, made the Left (especially the youth with their impatience and voluntarism) intolerant of the very idea of ‘human nature’, and made it opt for a vocabulary of manipulation and domination over Nature.

Moreover, writes Sofri, ‘far from being a critique of industrialism, Marxism is an apology for it’.

In the spirit of ‘68, Sofri lays claim to the right to learn from the experience of ‘sin’, from the ‘purgatory’ that came after the ‘inferno’ of a politics based on the sacrifice of individuality, human feeling and the present in the name of a remote future; the right, that is, to change. ‘What is needed is to find a language that confronts the point of no return reached in our shared history’, he writes. ‘68 cannot be repeated, but it can provide inspiration for exploring possibilities of transformation which were glimpsed at the time but then lost sight of. 1968 was a year when a generation ‘discovered a deep feeling of belonging to Europe both culturally and as citizens’. It failed to make use of the parallel experiences of those in Eastern Europe, and to examine itself in the mirror which they represented, as evidenced by the very deformities of the Marxism of the New Left. Yet, the impulse to break down the division of Europe into power blocs was there, and it is to this legacy that Sofri refers:

The rebellion of ‘68 had a peculiarly European character. For the first time in a century, Paris became once again the capital of a revolutionary Europe of young people, and its May spoke the language of the German Jew, Cohn- Bendit. The same marches crossed Europe, and brought the students in the West closer than ever before to those of Prague, or Cracow, or Belgrade. A common Europe was the promise of those months.

Sofri’s reflections on the meaning of ‘68 for the 1980s are frankly personal, but he also speaks for a wider constituency, notably those still committed to the politics born of social movements. It is emblematic of a generation’s need to address its predecessors and its successors, and, not least, to talk to itself. It is also symptomatic of the return, after a period of withdrawal, to politics and public life in the light of the successes of the ecology movement in Italy and in Europe as a whole.

Sofri represents one broad current of thought which is critical of the ‘68 legacy but determined to discover and establish continuities. It is admitted that perhaps something was coming to an end rather than beginning: ‘Who knows whether it won’t turn out to be the beginning of the end of a century which started so late with the revolver shots of Sarajevo and which has rushed anxiously towards its liquidation.’ Yet Sofri wants to see ‘68 as a moment of renewal, a starting-point for new projects of changing the world.

By contrast, the writers who can be called ‘post-modern announce the epochal crisis of the notions of political action, subjectivity, and the transformation of the ‘real’ which underpin the approach represented by Sofri and the ideas of the Greens. Mario Perniola, for example, writes of the dissolution of the traditional distinction between the real and the imaginary. For him, 1968 ushers in the age of the imaginary; the very aspects which others called political culs-de-sac, such as the revival of Marxist orthodoxies, are described as the highways towards the future:

On the one hand, ‘68 presented itself as radical critique of the society of social and cultural spectacle; on the other, it brings to a paroxysm society’s de- realization and culturalization. This latter aspect which has been shamefacedly hidden from sight, appears in the return of all the revolutionary theories of the past (from Marxism and Leninism to anarchism and council-communism) without there having been the slightest chance of a revolution .... But, this is exactly what gives one a measure of the degree of de-realization and social culturalization achieved . . . not even being a failed revolution, nor even a dream or illusion, it is a historical event of primary importance, the first historical event that cannot be called ‘real’ in the old sense of the word.

Perniola’s analyses deal with the death of a politics that is seen to originate in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution - a politics based in ‘a form of collective representation in which the masses or social groups identify in a way analogous to that which gave rise to the historical consciousness of the people, the nation and the class’. But, ‘it is no longer principles, ideas and representations that ensure integration between society and culture’, writes Perniola, ‘it is simulacra, images, copies without originals; whereas the former continued to presuppose the existence of subjects (if not of persons), the latter move in a space that cancels out all sign of originality, authenticity, subjectivity’.

While Mario Perniola cannot be said to speak as a representative (if anything, such a role would be eschewed by him), his writing nonetheless is part of a current of thought which has won many adherents in Italy and in Europe in the 1980s. In Italy it is especially influential among designers and architects, such as Alessandro Mendini, creator of ‘banal design’. Of this tendency Andrea Branzi has written:

The intermediate [as opposed to mass or avant garde] range of cultural forms is boundless, and banal design proposes a use for it, as the only possible adaptation to the post-industrial universe that surrounds us - a chaotic universe born out of a supranational order lacking history or destiny, a discontinuous world created out of what has turned out to be impracticable planning and a medieval culture that is the outcome of progress being turned on its head.

The philosophers of ‘weak thought’, such as Gianni Vattimo, also have much in common with this approach. The best known theorists of the post-modern, however, are French authors like Jean Baudrillard and Francois Lyotard, whose work is widely available in Italy in translation. In this context, Perniola, who owes a great deal to Baudrillard, can be said to stand for an important pole in the discussion of the meanings (or meaninglessness) of oppositional politics in the decades after 1968. Indeed, the positions occupied by Adriano Sofri and Mario Perniola can be seen to encapsulate in miniature a polarization which is found in the areas of opposition, dissent, or refusal, for which the label ‘left-wing’ appears increasingly inadequate. On the one hand, there is the reaffirmation of history and memory, a narrative that seeks meaning in collective action, a belief in the special role of the intellectual, a discovery of authenticity and irreducibility in nature. On the other, there is the elimination of subjectivity as a category, the replacement of the principle of collective action by that of indifference and neutralization, the dismissal of intellectuals as redundant, the substitution of authenticity by simulation in a world in which everything is seen as cultural. It is as if the positions were mirror opposites of one another, even in their use of language - Sofri’s dense with illustration and appealing to the readers’ own experience; Perniola’s abstract, distant, and self-reflective.

A momentary glance back to the 1960s and 70s shows the distance in time that has been travelled. The certainties, the sense of destiny, the belief in progress, the faith in the power of words: where are they now? The landscape has changed almost out of all recognition. However, this need not be a reason for disillusion and despair on the part of those who see social movements as cause for hope. If the idea of progress as demythicization which was so widespread in those movements is now seen as untenable, ‘we have to keep on dreaming while being conscious of the fact that all is a dream’.