This article is translated from the magazine Primo Maggio (1st May), No.8, Spring 1977. It analyses the struggles that took place in Bologna in February and March 1977. In particular it looks at the relationship between the movement and the official labour movement Communist Party and Trade Unions.) It examines the way those organisations reacted to the political demands that arose in the day to day movements of the struggle.
THE COMMUNIST PARTY, THE REVOLUTIONARY GROUPS AND THE NEW MOVEMENT IN BOLOGNA.
The Communist Party in Bologna had been increasing its membership all through 1976 - drawing in a considerable number of militants from the revolutionary groups (which had been in crisis for some time). However, the Party was no longer able to pull together meetings of any significant numbers of the youth of Bologna.
Ever since 1969, the new militants entering the struggle in Bologna had received their training in active community politics, in demonstrations etc - a far cry from the political centres of power In fact, in the big mass meetings in February, it was clear that they had no pre-established organisational networks: they were immersed in their own situations of struggle, struggling to change their lives, in a jungle where the formal party-system could not reach.
So, by the end of 1976 the formal political organisations appeared to have taken over and controlled every situation of struggle in the city. But the reality was that the city was running alive with housing occupations, auto-reduction struggles, spontaneous unauthorised demonstrations, and "Mao-Dada" provocations at official ceremonies and demonstrations etc.
Bologna had shared the experience of the break-up of the Left groups (in fact it was more advanced here, because in Bologna it's easier for intellectuals to become involved in the running of community services etc). This, coupled with the progressive (and by now almost complete) autonomisation of the Communist Party from the movement, to liberate a widespread spontaneity and creativity. This expressed itself in many ways: proletarian youth festivals flourished; there were many struggles for transforming everyday life; and a proliferation of meeting places (youth clubs, bookshops, film clubs etc) where people could gather. As a sign of the times, no sooner had Radio Alice come on the air than it was able to mobilise 2,000 comrades for a jam session, and had an average listening audience of 30,000.
A NEW SOCIAL FORCE IS EMERGING.
We can now talk of a new social grouping coming into existence. It seems not to have any objective, material reality. It seems to come together and recognise itself only subjectively - outside of the formal political structures, outside the channels of "democratic participation” outside the political groups, and also outside the workplace.
It is precisely through a denial of its own material condition (the position of being casual labour, lump labour, students etc) that this grouping comes together - precisely when it overcomes the geographical and social dispersion of its members. A process of recomposition(See p.122) is taking place - a quite subjective process, which functions outside of work and the workplace. No simple numerical gathering of these people could hope to capture and organise this process.
Suddenly we can see Radio Alice as an exemplary and wholly new experience.
The very terms in which the attack was made on Alice indicate that it was experimenting something quite new at the level of collective action. The discussion about the "party of diffuse situations", the party that represents struggles and subversive behaviour (See p.122) - this discussion will now have to take account of this experience. Among other things, a very close relationship has been established between political recomposition in this period, and the collective transformation of everyday life.
The Communist Party and the local authorities set out to crush this new movement They saw it as the "unhealthy" effects of a "disintegration", a "break-up" inside the otherwise healthy body of Bologna's "socialism in practice". For example, the proletarian youth clubs are being destroyed. In August 1976 the Bologna city council sent in a bulldozer to flatten the building in which the "Red Beret" centre was meeting. Others have been evicted by the police, on the insistence of the provincial administration.
Every political meeting place is closed to any expression of politics which is not in line with formally-recognised politics. And meanwhile the local Press alternates between silence and alarmism about each new episode of dissent. L'Unita completely ignores the causes and political motivations of any episode of political violence: they only stress the results and consequences (broken windows etc). The CP is making no· attempt to analyse or to win over the new wave of fighters who are entering the struggle. Criminalisation and marginalisation of the new modes and forms of struggle is the pattern in Bologna today.
THE MOVEMENT IN FEBRUARY/MARCH
In the first mass meetings in the University, in February, the political groups were absorbed by and submerged by the movement. The Communist Party was there as the only organised grouping with an intention of imposing its own line. However, the movement defended itself strongly against intrusion by the bureaucratic organisations - and at the same time developed its own criticism of the Communist Party. The criticisms were precise and direct: the wage-cutting policies of the "abstention-Government"; the raising of University fees; the housing shortage; and the lack of adequate local services. On all of these issues the responsibility of the local (Communist-controlled) Authority was stressed.
But it is in the social composition of the movement that we must look to find what was really new about this phase of the struggle. The University provided a reference point for many different people - young people, women, school students, proletarians, militants who had matured in the experience of the political work and the struggles of the past few years.
The first big demonstration on 10th February brought together 8,000 comrades, mainly women and young people. On this occasion, the Bologna Communist Party were clearly bent on provoking a confrontation' with the movement: through the newspapers they spread the (false) story that the movement had tried to attack their Bologna office.
From that moment onwards, the CP both manipulated and falsified news and information in the pages of L'Unita, intending to heighten the confrontation between the Party and the movement. The Communist Party had broken with the younger elements of Bologna. For that reason it was the youth that presented the greatest opposition to the Party's line. And this situation was manipulated by the Party as the price they had to pay for political stability.
As a result, the relationship between the Party and the movement was already firmly cemented into position even before the events of March 11-12th - even before - the events that followed the killing of Lorusso. The only new thing was the wholly unprincipled way the CP made use of the episodes of violence and street-fighting.
The Party understands (better than the students and young people who were in struggle) the possibilities of political circulation of demands etc, between the different sections of the working class. In February, for instance, the Trade Union mass meetings that were called during the General Strike (Feb.15th) had revealed a solid bloc of working class criticism of the agreement reached with the Confindustria (See p.122). Well, the CP's treatment of the movement in Bologna, the criminalisation of the movement, was a warning to other sections of the class, of what happens if you oppose. It was an indication of the limits of protest that were or were not acceptable. And in fact what the CP wants at this time is the silence of the working class.
THE NEW QUALITY OF THE MOVEMENT.
The killing of Lorusso had the effect of widening the base of the movement to new areas and new sections of the population. We saw very young people coming into the streets and participating massively in the movement, and we saw the whole centre of the Old City of Bologna being taken over in those days - although shortly afterwards, the initiative and thrust of the specific struggles began to fall off, and comrades tended to withdraw into the liberated area of the University. And in fact all attempts by the Authorities to isolate and marginalise the new lifestyles, forms of struggle etc, backfired, because they now began to grow as a mass, social, collective phenomenon.
Radio Alice's catchment area began to widen enormously.
That period was characterised by a high level of cohesion, of imagination and creativity something that surprised many militants and caught them unawares. And the basic material fact was that the fighting forces of March 1977 were rooted in the social structure of Bologna and its surrounds. For weeks on end, thousands of young people were in movement. They came from every stratum and every area of the "social factory" of Emilia. They were all the time coming forward, withdrawing, breaking up and regrouping again, in a form of political practice which could not be halted by or incorporated in the formal political institutions.
This behaviour was rooted in the material conditions of life of the people involved - not just based on "advanced consciousness". And in a situation like that, every struggle, every liberated space acts to spread the antagonism across whole geographical areas, and to previously uninvolved and unexplored sections of society.
We saw this in the total spontaneity of the clashes and the street fighting on the night of Saturday March 12th and Sunday March 13th, even when the "Movement" was not present. Also in the way large numbers of the population quite ignored the breaking of the law in those incidents.
The demonstration called by the official parties on March 16th confirmed this fact even further. The 200,000 citizens of Emilia who were gathered there were silent, passive, and embarrassed. In fact many of them joined the Movement's demonstration after the end of the official public meeting.
During those days there seemed to be a real and strong “contact” between the young people and the City. There were all kinds of different people, with all kinds of different ideologies, acting in all different ways, and this fed and nourished the inventiveness and creativity of the movement. New demonstrations were continually being spawned; there were meetings everywhere, all the time (ranging from night-time marches to big meetings); new forms of organisation were being thought up all the time.
For example, after March 15th, the police, the official political parties and the local authorities were trying to deny the movement any possible political space for coordination etc. The movement was driven out of the Old Centre of the city, and was denied the use of premises. But the movement responded by planning on a geographic basis: meetings were set up, on a rotation basis, in cinemas on the outskirts of town (where the owners didn't make any difficulties), as well as in parks, local squares etc - which had the added advantage of involving local people even more than before!
The whole of 1976 had seen repeated attempts to ghettoise - or destroy this movement. March 1977 signalled the defeat of those attempts: the movement succeeded in "taking over the city" for days on end. For a while, in April, it seemed that it was only the students element carrying on the struggle, and the Left groups tended to re-emerge in the mass meetings - but once again, during the days of protest for the death of Giorgina Masi (May 13-16th) that same youthful, proletarian force emerged once again, tight and compact, onto the streets. For a few days, the whole Old City was again in the grasp of the 10,000 young people who had marched in the demonstration of March 13th.
And the Communist Party, having interpreted the re-emergence of the Left groups as a sign of the exhaustion of the spontaneous phase, began to intervene directly, after May, with the idea of turning the "honest citizens" of Bologna against the "deviants", in order to isolate them.
EMILIA AS THE "SOCIAL FACTORY". THE EMILIA WORKING CLASS AND THE POLITICS OF DECENTRALISATION.
The reformists are now having to swallow their words, if they want to offer a public 'interpretation' of the events of Bologna. Only yesterday they were saying that Emilia was different from other regions it showed unity .... it had a high level of economic and political development etc. Today, though, they say that Emilia suffers from social breakdown and marginalisation.
Emilia was a forerunner of the "social factory". To be technical for a while, the "social worker" and the "whole society producing surplus value" arrived early on, in the development of Emilia - thanks precisely to that "socialism in practice" which is now trying to squash the concrete political demands of a whole new class composition.(For definition of terms see Notes, page 122)
The fact that the Emilian factory and the Emilian working class are dispersed dates back to the reconstruction after the war. In that development, the stage of the. mass worker was missed out. The region went straight from the craft worker to the disseminated worker. Thus, although the actual numbers of the working class have been increasing, its political weight has been decreasing, because the working class has been dispersed along with the dispersal of the factory as an institution.
In Emilia the decentralisation of production has structural characteristics. It is an organic function: in part substituting the need for investment. Emilia's model of development offers hints for the future restructuring of Italian industry as a whole - the disciplinary use of the labour market, the way workers mobility is used by the employers to break up any new levels of organisation. At the same time, we are seeing a growth of out-work in the home; part-time work; seasonal work; and a huge influx of women into the vast network of the service sector. All this gives Emilia a higher percentage of "economically-active population" than almost anywhere in Europe. Very many people are involved actively in the process of capital accumulation. And this dispersal is seen as a broad-ranging alternative to factory work, as such.
So, in the Emilian model, the whole geographical area becomes a productive unit, instead of just the “factory“. This takes place through a dispersal of the labour process, and a fluidification and mobility of the labour market. And in this way the Communist Party becomes a function of the relations of production: through it, real interests of the capitalist class are concretely expressed.
The Communist Party as the "mass party of all the working people" has its base in the "integrated factory", the tertiarisation and the decentralisation of production. Under the ideology of "working people", all strata of society are guaranteed equal dignity and political recognition. and all the various interests of the "forces of society" can be mediated. (See Notes, page 122).
In this framework, the unity which has been broken up by the breaking up of the production process, can be recomposed inside the institutions of "socialism in practice" and in the Party: these become focuses of consensus and of collective action for economic development.
[b] THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN ALL THIS.
The "integrated factory" phenomenon is growing in Emilia - under socialist management. Meanwhile, the Party maintains and builds a relationship with the "labour aristocracy" in the bigger factories. For its relationship with the broader mass of workers, it relies on the power of its ideology. Today the work ethic has been elevated by the labour movement; it is counter-posed to the other sections of the class. All alternative political demands and perspectives are relegated to the channels of "democratic participation".
Those channels and institutions - the Trade Union. the Party etc - are the go-betweens between the "producer" and the political system. They represent the worker-as-citizen. They integrate the worker as a producer. Even when they are called in to intervene in a struggle, they intervene only in order to promote 'economic development', to emphasise the necessity of "productive Labour-" and to put "the producer" on a sort of pedestal. In this way they represent the whole objective condition of the workers ..... but the class antagonism and the subjectivity of the class are shut out and denied. In this system of participation you DO NOT have the right to question roles and functions in the society. The existing order of things must be reproduced.
We have a situation where the participation-system is very highly developed - and where there is very little space for workers' subjectivity. So therefore the workers' class-antagonism expresses itself very little through the Communist Party. This is why, in turn, this class-antagonism is not represented in the political system ..... which can therefore maintain its outer facade of unity and harmony.
Under this "socialism in practice", the subjectivity of the working class separates itself, by necessity, from the Communist Party. In Emilia the rival political parties have, for some while, maintained an appearance of concord and non-conflict. This has been the forerunner of similar developments at national level. And therefore, for these "socialists" of the CP, conflict in their system is seen as "negative", it is seen as a "plot".
For a long time now, the Party has trodden a single path: it is abandoning its relationship with the class, in favour of a relationship with the official, "constitutional" political parties
THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE EVENTS OF MARCH.
People often say that the CP's model of "socialism in practice" has a high capacity for political integration. But the events of March showed that in Bologna the very high level of "participation" etc had only been achieved by excluding the new political needs and the new ways of behaving, out of the institutional political system. The socialist ethic stands, as something alien to and hostile to the new needs that are emerging out of a new composition of the class.
In the events of Bologna we saw the lengths to which the official party system must go, if it wants to build its hold over the struggle. We also saw the weak spots where this project fell down.
During March 11-12th, the movement spread and tried to find its own channels of political recomposition, even through the institutions of the Labour movement. The Party tried to defeat this "subversion" and stop it gaining ground. To do this meant a direct, frontal confrontation with its own political base. Therefore it has to provide political reasons for opposing the movement. But the Party soon realised that it would be impossible to repress the movement from inside the movement, by "defeating it politically". The power that was coming up from the grass roots was stronger than Party ideology.
For instance, on March 11th (the day of Lorusso's death), the CP tried to regain control of the streets. Party cars were driving all round the working class areas of the city, asking people to come into the streets against the "fascists" and the "hooligans". But it was the children of CPers who were in the streets - and calling the children of CP members "fascists” just won't wash! So the CP militants who did obey the Party call were very unsure of themselves. Some of the younger ones actually tagged along with the Movement's march to the railway station and the Christian Democrat headquarters.
After this failure, the CP - which was the only institution with an effective presence in the social sphere - withdrew from the scene. Party officials, members and militants of the CP were sent home, or remained in their branch offices. The CP at that moment could only achieve the political isolation of the movement by separating and isolating the Party from the movement, and then handing over the movement to the State authorities. The CP had failed in developing a mass mobilisation against what it called "the students".
THE SEPARATION OF THE UNIONS AND THE PARTY FROM THE ARENA OF STRUGGLE. A TENDENCY THAT IS NOW COMPLETE.
Since the Party had failed to divide sections of the class against each other in the street, they then passed to attempting it in their Press. Heavy ideology and the manipulation of news were used, to try and isolate the struggles.
But in a structure of society that is built on decentralisation of production and total fluidification, it is very hard to compartmentalise the struggle of one section of society. In fact, contrary to what some people say, the danger is not so much that struggles will not find the ways to link up; rather it is the fact that the Party and the Unions have separated themselves from the struggle. They have made themselves autonomous from the struggles and the mass movements, in order to prevent and block their political recompsition.
Faced with the material interests and the political objectives of newly emerging sectors of living labour, the Communist Party practices political stagnation. No longer the political use of conflicts in order to shake up the bureaucracy and reorganise the institutions. That model is passed. Now it uses institutional stagnation in order to block the conflicts. March 1977 marked the end of a model of integration between the mass movements and the institutions of the labour movement - an integration which has been the pattern since the upheavals of 1968.
And when the Party tried to engage its base (in this case the citizens of Bologna) in carrying out their own repression, the attempt didn't last long. After the March 13th demonstration, the political parties, the local authorities and the Trade Union federation set up a “Committee for Democratic Order” in order to police the city. The first testing point was when 8,000 Council workers (strongly dependent on the Party for their employment) were summoned to a mass meeting after a deliberate Press campaign had blown up a couple of harmless wall-slogans into a plot to carry out a "19th-century-style" sacking of the Town Hall. The meeting was deserted (only 200 out of 8,000), and no mobilisation resulted!
The formal political party-system (which now includes the CP) faces an impossibility today: how to consolidate their close inter-party links, at the same time as imposing social control, at the same time as trying to keep up their powers of mass mobilisation.
Today we face a joint project built of the socialist work-ethic, and the capitalist coercion-to-work - for it is the socialist system of values that offers the most suitable system for building a form of social control that is built on it. Some people say that the question of control can be separated from the question of work - but others (including trade union officials) state that their main enemy is “those life-styles that are contradictory to work”.
The Trade Union movement tried to divide the forces of March 1977, between those who want to "participate consciously in the social process of production" and those who "are opposed to the productive process", and who are outside it. This is the tradition of tithe "producers of the wealth" against the "parasitic sectors" of the society. These “producers” cannot even conceive of a working class struggle and existence outside of the integral realisation of the value of labour. It was no accident that it was the "workers council"-type Party members and trade unionists who were in the front line, in Bologna, fighting against what they saw as the "parasitism” of the students and the “marginalised” elements. (See Note, page 122)
A fine situation, in which the ideology of the official labour movement becomes hegemonic - but leaves the real power of domination over the production pro cess to Capital. “Working class culture” versus capital’s domination of the production process. Gramsci comes into his own: working class hegemony is to be a spiritual value, an ethical hegemony!
Faced with this “poverty of socialism“, the new wave of fighters have something far richer in their sights. And for the moment - in these months of struggle - their refusal to adopt strategic perspectives shows that they have learned the working class lesson - measuring power in terms of income, and taking power over their own lives.