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.