Negri's Interrogation (trial transcript 1979)

Judge Palombarini questions Toni Negri, May 18, 1979, Padua
Judge Palombarini questions Toni Negri, May 18, 1979, Padua

Arrested on April 7, 1979, Toni Negri appeared a few days later before his judges. As opposed to Oreste Scalzone, Negri then found it advisable to answer questions to his writings. The following transcript is invaluable inasmuch as it exemplifies the “bizarre” procedure adopted by the judges. As it happens, the Autonomists were incriminated on the basis not of any previous evidence, but on their very answers.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 26, 2019

Judge: Tell us what you have written about armed struggle.

Negri: In regard to armed struggle my position has been expressed most completely in my book, 33 Lessons on Lenin, in which a re-examination of Lenin's thought leads to the acceptance of armed struggle as an essential moment in the development of mass and class revolutionary struggle. Yet I have, in all my public statements, always expressed the deepest, widest, reasoned rejection of any form of armed struggle that involves the militarization of the Movement and clandestine activity.

J: You have said that most of the militants of “Potere Operaio” (P.O.) were opposed to clandestinization and to armed struggle. I show you two documents which were found in your files. The first is a mimeographed sheet which praises the armed struggle of a few P.O. comrades arrested for possessing Molotov cocktails. The second, also a mimeographed sheet with the P.O. letterhead, explains “why Idalgo Macchiarini and Robert Negret have been kidnapped and put on trial,” (two corporate managers, one from Sit-Siemens of Milan and the other from Renault of Paris). I must remind you Macchiarini was kidnapped in 1972 and the action was claimed by the Red Brigades (B.R.).

They are leaflets that could have been found among the documents of any of the organizations of 68. In any case, tney do not indicate a P.O. line as much as the indiscriminate and general praise that the Movement bestowed on the first initiatives of mass armed struggle.

Public Prosecutor: Have you ever distributed this kind of leaflet?

I stopped doing it about ten years ago, around 1970.

J: I show you this typewritten material that contains some notes I believe you wrote. Do you want to verify the contents?

The document contains analysis of the current situation that I think I can agree with. The document in its entirety seems to be mine, without excluding the fact that it may represent the outcome of a collective discussion, and hence contain some points that I could not accept. In general, the document is characterized by the assumption of the irreversible fact of extremely antagonistic class relationships. Therefore, it talks about a “Vietnamese" strategy in the Movement within this given and irreversible situation. It emphasizes the major aspects of mass struggle, which are clarified in the central part of the same document about the four campaigns: concerning the working day and the wage; concerning public expenditure; concerning nuclear power; and against State terrorism.

It is clear that when one is speaking about offensive struggle — one is speaking about the material conditions of exploitation in relation to the new conditions of social production (socialized work, off-the-books work, women's work, various methods of extracting absolute surplus value and therefore more brutal exploitation). All this defines a situation of extreme social antagonism among classes and social groups, for which the conclusion inevitably tends to be made in terms of civil war. Notice the huge and dramatic difference that these theses make in relation to the B.R. position.

J: I do not quite see this fundamental difference.

It is the difference between the dismantling of power and the destabilization of the political system. In fact, the fundamental problem is one of destabilizing the political system through the dismantling of the social system of exploitation. This is the revolutionary process as I mean it — a material process simultaneously breaking the whole capitalist machine's domination and providing for the fundamental needs of the proletariat (self-amelioration). The insurrectional process (therefore the process connected to the civil war) can only place itself at the end of the complexity of this social movement. It is at the point of the explosion of objective contradictions that the struggle is intensified and the economic system of exploitation has difficulty keeping its laws functioning. As a consequence, the system that represents it lives only out of the terroristic irrationality of domination — a political class that does not know how to produce surplus value is a dead political class.

PP: But I still have not understood the difference from the B.R.

The difference between what I said and the ideology of the B.R. rests on the following points. First, the conception of organization. The B.R. has an extremely centralized idea of organization (the party), which is presented as the fundamental and exclusive weapon and the determining factor in the clash with the State. The mass movement, while said to be fundamental, is regarded as ineffective without the party’s external guide. It is the classic Third International ideology. "Autonomia Operaia,” on the contrary — on the basis of the tradition of Italian revolutionary Marxism — considers organization as mass organization that filters and translates into itself, overturning the capitalist organization of social production. “Autonomia” emerges out of the growth of the immediate needs of the proletariat. It is a moment for dismantling through a struggle against exploitation and liberation of proletarian needs.

Secondly, the concept of insurrection. For the B.R., the concept of insurrection is connected to the issue of taking over State power. For “Autonomia,” take-over is a meaningless term at least on two accounts: that no State power exists outside the material organization of production; that there is not revolution except as a transitional process in the making and partly realized. It is therefore clear that “Autonomia” rejects any idea of a State “coup” through actions directed against the institutions. Any action must direct itself toward providing for the fundamental needs of the proletariat. For the B.R., proletarian liberation and any effort and any moment of struggle in this sense are impossible if the State power structure is not attacked and destroyed.

J: I show you a series of documents on union issues, in which among other things “attack and turn the tables” is mentioned. I believe that these objectives are the same ones pursued by military and clandestine organizations, such as the B.R.

Most of these documents — like the ones we discussed earlier — have been published in the journal Rosso. I believe that the call for “attack against even democratic union representation,” is part of the constant permanent line of “Autonomia” and that it is justified by general course of political relationships in this society. When one speaks of the attack against the union structure, one means the mass opposition to the union and the exercise of the radical democratic rights of the workers and the proletariat.

J: Explain the meaning of the expressions “organized axis of Autonomy” and “complementary axis”.

When I speak of “organized axis of Autonomy” I am referring to the autonomous mass vanguard acting in the factories, in the service organizations, in the neighborhoods. By “complementary axis” I mean small spontaneous groups that are working in the area of Autonomy.

J: But do you or do you not share the same objectives as the B.R.?

It seems to me erroneous to assert an unambiguous relationship between the generally developed anti-union polemic in the movement of the Marxist Left and the military practice of the B.R.

J: Remember that you also had in your files this document entitled “Outline for the Construction of a Workers Coordination”. Among other things, in this material of yours, it is stated: “The huge platoon of the owners' servants should be placed in a situation of not being harmful. The managers are the first link of the organized chain through which the owners’ command is exercized.” And later: “Let us organize the proletarian patrol in order to eliminate scabs from the workshops; let us make the patrol an instrument of permanent organization inside and outside the factory...” There is no question that these are typical objectives of the Red Brigades.

From an even cursory reading of the document, I believe it is not mine.

PP: But remember that in in your files there were other documents, handwritten or typed by you, of the same content!

Defense Lawyer: You have to tell us what this document proves! The judicial code requires that the accused be made aware “in a precise and clear manner” the acts attributed to him as punishable offenses and all the proof relative to such acts.

PP: You are trying to obstruct the answering of the question.

It is useless to get excited since I am willing to answer the question. In my files I was gathering both material I wrote and documents from the various existing political positions in the Movement. The whole of which, as I did once before in the 1960’s, would have been donated to a foundation.

J: For completeness I now show you the other three documents: a manuscript, “The Patrol, the Brigade, the Red Guard with Tennis Shoes”; typewritten material in which, among other things, it is stated that “the patrol in tennis shoes covers the master’s territory and strikes the enemy recomposing the class”; and a letter addressed to you, in which the sender agrees with you concerning the practicality of the patrols.

The manuscript is the outline of an article I wrote for Rosso. The idea of the proletarian patrol seems to me to be a useful tool of organization for today’s proletariat, which is forced into territorial dispersion of productive activity, forced into “off-the-books” work, diffused work, tertiary work. Only the patrol would be able to create an aggregation of these forces not gathered inside the large factory of capital and therefore allow the ripening of class struggle in terms adjusted to the mobility of this new work force. The function of the patrol is the economic-political representation of the productive proletariat involved in “off-the-books” work, in order to improve working and living conditions.

J: We believe that what you define as the “ripening class struggle” is carried out by the patrols through the use of illegal and violent means.

In the majority of the cases the work of the patrols is not carried out through illegal and violent means, but rather through political pressure and negotiations. The cases in which there are elements of violence, would, I believe, be the kind that are well-known in the history of class struggle when sectors of the unorganized labor force asks for union recognition. One should not forget that the history of union organizations in the large factories has included considerable violence — violence, first of all, in reaction to the repressive forces of capital.

J: Now I show you another series of documents that you had filed. There is writing about columns, politico-military cadres, logistical sections and mass work. Specified are the tasks of the military structure, including “action against the enemy, defence action, training, expropriations.” Finally, arming, financing, and clandestine behavior. What do you have to say in this regard?

It is not my material. They are documents that don’t have the slightest relationship with the kind of political line I am following. The hand-written notes on the borders are not my handwriting. Those documents were circulated in Milan within the Movement as proposals for discussion that were engaged in by people that I presume later merged into Prima Linea.

J: Who are these people?

I am not able to tell you their names. They were people who hung around in the coordinates of “Autonomia.” The organizational model in those documents, however, is pretty much terroristic. A debate on these issues went on around 1976, with these ideas meeting substantial opposition in the Movement.

J: But why have you saved several copies of the same text?

Probably these documents were given to me in order to get my opinion and support. I want to make it clear that it is precisely the abundance of information made available to me that has enabled me to oppose such positions more effectively.

J: But you should be able to remember who these people were who gave you these documents and asked for your support.

I repeat I cannot answer. Terrorists never introduce themselves as such! This material circulates during public meetings and often through several hands.

PP: When you speak in this excited tone, you remind me of the voice in the phone call to Mrs. Moro!1

You have no right to make these insinuations! You have to prove what you say first. You are insulting me!

DL: I demand that this incident be put in the record.

J: Agreed. Let us record everything. But let’s be calmer.

In short, it is just about impossible for me to identify the ones who brought these documents.

J: “Elementary Norms of Behavior” is the title of another typewritten document from your files. The concepts presented here are similar to the ones contained in another typewritten page with the title “Norms of Security and Work Style for the Irregular Forces” by the B.R., which was found in the apartment of Via Gradoli.2 With these documents we have discovered clues concerning the existence of illegal, clandestine, and militarized bodies within the Movement to which you, Professor Negri, are not extraneous.

Of course I have not written this document. It belongs to documentary material I have gathered. It is worth remembering that the process of gestation and political identification of “Autonomia” in Milan which has been developing in recent years requires the overcoming of the militarist “impasse” inside the Movement. It should be clear that the organized “Autonomia” of Milan is struggling against this “impasse”.

J: There are handwritten notes on a leaflet I have here concerning union issues.

They are items for a discussion concerning the organization of the struggle against Saturday work.

J: What does the expression “I” near the word “leaflet” mean?

Probably it means that somehow I had taken care of the thing, or that I wanted to take care of it.

J: Is this pamphlet, “Workers’ Power for Communism,” yours? If it is the fruit of a collective work, did you participate in it?

It is not a pamphlet of mine and I did not collaborate in drawing it up. I have never been a part of the Revolutionary Communist Committees which are given as authors on the first page.

J: Who are the persons who supported, as you said earlier, the “directive line of the B.R.” and the B.R.'s initiatives as a moment of unification for the Movement? And who formed the “little groups” that supported the “clandestine” and “terrorist line”?

It is difficult, indeed impossible to answer that question.

J: You keep talking about the constant rejection of armed struggle. We have obtained a transcript of your statements during the third organizational conference of P.O. in September 1971. You had stated then that “appropriation” on the one hand and “militarization" on the other were absolutely related, and that the development of the “clash” and the “organization” had to proceed together.

That position (even simply expressed off the cuff and in the course of a very complex and confused conference) was consistent with the positions that I later supported. It is clear that the perspective of armed struggle, as it is called here, refers to the perspective defined in the Marxist classics and does not correspond at all to a particular program for the militarization of the Movement.

DL: These are not relevant questions. The accused is being forced at each point to provide not concrete answers on factual elements, but rather to engage in analysis concerning philosophical premises, a specialized lexicon, and correlations among political and historical issues. It seems to us that you expect some element of evidence from the answers. We thus ask that the accused be question ed directly in relation to the charges. In particular, the two reports by the Digos (secret police) and the witnesses who will testify.

J: I agree. Let us invite the accused to prove his innocence in relation to the following probative elements against him, the sources of which cannot be indicated without prejudicing the judicial inquiry.

1) Statements according to which Negri helped to develop, on the one hand, the military actions of the B.R., and on the other, the mass actions of “Autonomia”, the one being coordinated with the other through centralized (central and peripheral) structures. The link between the armed vanguard and the base of the Movement had to be assured by the rigid centralization (the so-called “workers’ centralism") of the mass and vanguard initiatives.

2) Statements according to which, in the course of meetings among members of the organization, Negri advocated the necessity to raise the level of confrontation (sabotage of industrial plants, the beating of factory supervisors, proletarian expropriations, and kidnapping and confiscations in reference to union leaders, judges, and factory managers), with the aim of conquering power.

3) Statements according to which Negri pointed to the B.R. and P.O. as connected structures, and according to which he participated in B.R. planning.

4) Revelations made by a B.R. member to a person who had later informed the judicial authorities about the direct link between the B.R. and P.O.

5) Statements according to which the militants of P.O. in Padua had available arms and explosives and were training themselves in military techniques. Statements according to which Negri taught the “technique” of building Molotov cocktails.

I am completely astonished by the probative elements stated here. They are not only untrue accusations, but downright unlikely and incompatible with everything I have said and done during the times I belonged to P.O. and later “Autonomia”. The opposition between the B.R. and “Autonomia” is clear from the documents of the two groups themselves. It is preposterous to say that I taught people how to make Molotov cocktails, which, by the way, I do not know how to assemble. I have never spoken in support of making links between the B.R.’s military actions and the mass actions of the organized Autonomy. The accusations are based on pure fabrication— they are fantasies!

J: At this point we are questioning all your writings, charging that you present programs tending towards armed struggle and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship.

I refuse to accept the legitimacy of your questions and of the reports which were used to justify my arrest. Nothing in my books has any direct organizational relationship. My responsibility is totally as an intellectual who writes and sells books!

J: If you have always expressed the rejection of armed struggle, tell us then how you justify this phrase contained in this leaflet: “The heroic struggle of the B.R. and the NAP (Armed Proletariat Nuclei) comrades is the iceberg of the Movement.” I want you to notice that the document, taken from your files, has notations and corrections, some of which quite likely are your own.

Yes, the document seems to be mine; at least some of the marginal notations are mine. But it contains classic expressions of Marxism. For “democracy” one should understand the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, and for “proletarian dictatorship,” the highest form of freedom and democracy. As for the sentence in question, it is indeed necessary to recognize as a fact the emergence of the B.R. and NAP as the tip of the iceberg of the Movement. This does not require one in any way to transform the recognition into a defense, and this does not in any way deny the grave mistake of the B.R. line. At one point I defined the B.R. as a variable of the Movement gone crazy.

I have expressed in the most emphatic way my disagreement regarding the B.R. initiatives— a position that I believe coincides with a very large majority of the comrades of “Autonomia”. Therefore, let there be no confusion. At the same time this does not mean that the B.R. comrades should not be respected. For it is necessary to have some respect for ail those who are seeking proletarian communist goals, even as one deeply criticizes their “regicide” strategy, which is contrary to all the premises of Marxism. Marx himself tipped his hat to Felice Orsini. Nevertheless, I state again that terrorism can only be fought through an authentic mass political struggle and inside the revolutionary movement.

Translated by III WW & Phil Mattera

  • 1The only "evidence" brought to the judges to justify Negri's arrest were tapes of the phone calls made by the Red Brigades to the Moro family, presumably proving that it was Negri's voice. It turned out that the tape had never been analyzed. Their recent analysis by the American expert appointed by the prosecutor remans unconclusive.