17. Letters to Lotta Continua

Submitted by Steven. on August 14, 2009

Italy is in a state of great turbulence among all sorts of different sectors of the working class and the various ‘movements'. No clear line of policy or of programme has emerged from this new situation.

The answers are not held by any single political organisation. They must be sought in a much wider terrain, where a new mass politics can be created
out of the material conditions that exist.

It was for this reason that Lotta Continua opened its letters pages to all sections of the movement, to write and express their opinions about the point reached by the struggle, and the directions for the future.

Not only is this a very exciting move - allowing all kinds of ideas to come out - it also gives the richest documentation of the problems, hopes and fears of a revolutionary movement in Western Europe. It's an education in itself. We cannot hope to print a representative sample, so we are simply printing a few that we translated in the course of our work on this pamphlet.

What is "The Movement"?
The following letter is from Sergio Bologna, one of the editorial group of the journal "Primo Maggio"("May First").

It is a clearheaded attempt to clarify some of the area of debate about 'what is the Movement'. We have not translated the whole of it.

Dear Comrades,

I'm glad to be able to accept your invitation to write about the question of "workers and the marginalised sectors” (operai e marginali), even if the escalation of the situation during this week of the death of comrade Lorusso and the events of Rome and Bologna demands rather more immediacy and urgency in the debate. I must say at once that I do not at all share the definition of "marginalisation" which is being given to the mass of people who have been in the forefront of the struggle in the Universities this week.

In particular I do not believe that there exists, in Italy, an area of society that is radically excluded from the relations of production. Even after all these years of crisis, marginalisation is not a fact in our society - or at least, not at a mass level. The real marginalisation is political marginalisation. And for this reason, the causes of "marginalisation" are not to be attributed (as the bourgeois Press are starting to do) to the "objective" mechanisms of the economic crisis. No - the causes lie precisely with the parties, the "party system", who have decided to exclude certain modes of struggle, certain material and subjective needs, from the things which can be accepted as having social legitimacy in our country.

(He explains how many sectors of workers who have not accepted the austerity policies; the young proletarians who are organising politically; the women who are building their strength etc - all these are being defined as 'outsider the framework of politics).

You know well enough that, when faced with these sections of the class, the "party system" has decided to treat them as pathological aspects of late capitalism. Measures must therefore be adopted to them (within, of course, the limits imposed by austerity). Or to use law and order against them.

(He then looks at the new composition of the students - no longer the privileged sector, but worker-students, the children of proletarians, and students who have come out of workplaces in order to study. All or most of them have a precise location in the relations of production).

To define the student as the "unemployed intellectual", rootless, and a potential anarcho-fascist is a propaganda exercise designed to put students into a political ghetto, by falsifying the realities of this society. But even let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that there does exist a wide stratum of people who are students and nothing else - do nothing else in life except go to the university, and who are kept by Mummy and Daddy ... or by their sisters ... or by prostitutes ...ie, 'kept' people, who may even manage to wangle a grant in some cases. We find that these people want to represent themselves. They want to function politically. They want to have power, as they are now - ie, as figures of abstract labour, before starting an actual particular job. And it is precisely this aspect that makes them take their stand by the side of the mass-worker.

In other words, comrades, to be brief: the-petty-bourgeoisie is a class that has been politically and socially defeated - above all, with the crisis. The ones who have stood up to the crisis, who have largely maintained their cohesion (and here we must not be stupidly extremist ... this has also been thanks to the "official" labour movement) has been the working class, we find that it has been precisely the behaviour of the working class - its forms of struggle, its forms of organisation, its ideology based on its own needs, and its autonomy - that has exerted a powerful attraction on the hospital worker, on the local government worker, on the marginal worker, on the University worker without a steady job etc etc. And it has had a powerful effect on the full-time students too. But why is this?

Because, comrades (and you know this very well), these struggles in the Faculties have involved - sometimes to an even greater extent then the students themselves - these workers, as well as the proletarian youth clubs i.e all that cluster of social forces and representative figures of the overall relations of production whose' subjective behaviour has been politically pushed out of the "party system".

In this sense, the struggles today in the Universities give a clear cross-section view of the new class composition in our country, and in this sense the University struggles are radically different from those of 1968. And here we come to the point, comrades. I do not agree with the way in which Lotta Continua, both as a newspaper and as a collection of militants operating in various places, has placed itself within the movement. What has Lotta Continua done? Instead of coming forward with a political identity of its own which would have enabled it at least to undergo a mass criticism (and so get off the sandbanks on which the choices of its leading group have stranded it), Lotta Continua has painted its face like a Redskin, dressed up as a first-year student, and is playing at political primitivism. This is a typical case of camouflage and transformism.

If what we have said so far is true, you can easily understand that the best way to distort these University struggles is to pretend that they are only about the University reforms, and therefore only of interest to University workers and students. This is false - because we have seen an entire class composition(t.n: ie a new make-up of a section or sections of the class) coming together around the Universities - and the organised autonomy movement does represent a tiny but nonetheless real fraction of this. Of course, these struggles do concern the reform of the University - but as a structure at the service of this political class composition, or rather integrated with it (as in fact it already is, but is not recognised as such). So it becomes meaningless to intervene in the mass meetings "as First Year students".

Like everyone else, I love the Metropolitan Indians. At long last, they've brought us back some gaiety after centuries of gloom. But when I see members of Parliament, militants of PdUP-AO and militants of Lotta Continua masquerading among them, all shouting together for the "end of politics", an "end of power structures" etc, I feel like laughing. Because it was precisely that grouping of forces, united under the banner of "Proletarian Democracy" for the General Election of June 20th, that created this nausea among the militants, the women and the young people, for a certain style of political work.

You say that the Autonomists do just the same? Well then, enter into the merit of political debate with them. Work out different forms of relationship with the movement. In other words, start trying to carry out a political project. It seems to me, however, that you are dreaming of impossible political rebirths. Among other things you are giving credence to that fuzzy and all-embracing image of the "area of autonomy" which we know to be-one of the biggest political falsehoods current at this time.

One last point on the subject of autonomy, and then I'll end.

The situation is different today from 1968, when, as political militants, we went to the factories, playing a role of vanguard-detonator. Today some sectors of the organised autonomy tendency are actual and concrete elements of class composition - ie, they are inside it, particularly inside those sectors that have been expropriated from all political power. This is to say that they are not (unlike ourselves, as we partly were, in relation to the mass worker in 1968), theoretical and ideological representatives.

In my opinion this changes considerably the type of relationship between
the vanguard and the mass - if we want to call it that - from what it was
in 1969. But on these matters we can, if you like, continue the discussion another time.

Fraternally, Sergio Bologna.

The Good Old Days
(At this point two short letters are missed due to unreadable text)

In July 1977 a clash took place in Ravizza Park (Milan) between the Autonomists and the Workers for Socialism Movement (MLS). This clash provoked an important debate in the pages of Lotta Continua newspaper. Here we print part of a feature article published on 29th July 1977.

In recent weeks we have already published a number of articles about the incidents and the arguments that took place during the "Festival of the Opposition Press" in Ravizza Park, 9th-17th July, promoted by Popular Front (the MLS magazine). Readers will recall that some Autonomist comrades were beaten with saucepans by the MLS heavy squad (servizio d'ordine), and that later on the Autonomists turned up at the Festival with their own heavy squad in battle gear, to distribute a leaflet against the MLS.

We have received many letters, out of which we can only publish some excerpts.
(Trans. Note: An all-out free-for-all between the Autonomists and the MLS was avoided, largely because Lotta Continua and the majority of non-aligned comrades preferred to hold an Assembly to discuss matters instead).

The United Anti-Fascist Collective of Milan, a group of partisans close to MLS and AO, writes:

"Who do these Autonomists think they are? After being saucepanned by a comrade who has little patience with those who defend the line of using P.38 pistols, they go crying and looking for protection all over the place. What revolutionaries are these, who can only use insults against the partisans present at the Festival, and who right under the noses of the Carabinieri anti-terrorist squad, hand out a leaflet that is politically beneath contempt, and who are organised to threaten and attack comrades, and to prevent any revolutionary initiative. They are not for unity, but for division. They are not on the side of the masses, but have the nerve to substitute themselves for the masses. They are not guided by the interests of the people, but only by their own anger and desperation. They turn their backs on the enemy, and lend themselves to the policies of reaction, practicing small-group struggle instead of class struggle of vast proportions ..... "

A young Autonomist comrade from Cantu, north of Milan, tells of his troubled relationship with the MLS ever since May 14th of this year, when:

"I saw this individual foaming at the mouth, with a spanner in his hand (he was a lurid gorilla of the MLS). He asked me, snarling, if I belonged to Autonomy. When I said I did, he aimed a spanner-blow at my head. But I dodged, and succeeded in flattening this venomous mollusc (!). Revolutionary communist militants must no longer put up with the suffocating and counter-revolutionary presence of the Stalinists, these opportunists who, ever since the Russian Revolution, have always strangled at birth the positive, libertarian development of revolutions(...)So I say that it was quite right to go armed to the Festival of the Opposition Spanner - so as not to run the risk of being "saucepanned" by the opportunists..."

Lastly, from Rome, comrade Torquato has sent us his reflections on the "will to dominate" inside the movement, referring to a previous article that had attacked the conception of the "Party as a will-to-dominate".

"The first thing to be said, I think, is that the "will to dominate" is not something inborn in man as such, but is a psychological product of the capitalist relations of production - for the following reason:

The basic, and almost constituent act of capitalist relations, is the exchange of goods, and this produces antagonism between those who are exchanging, because each one attempts to give as little as possible and to obtain as much as possible. So it is a sort of competition, and the stronger man wins. It gives rise to the figures of the "strong" and the "weak", the "clever guy" and the "sucker".
Now, for the bosses it is of the greatest importance to get the proletarians to adopt this attitude too, because that way they remain divided and in antagonism amongst each other, and so it’s easier to control them ( ... )

Against all this, the proletarians attempt to oppose the collective solidarity of the exploited, based not on mutual power-relationships, but on relationships of equality and of mutual human enrichment. These relationships find their roots not of course in the exchange of goods, but essentially in a factory-type of situation, where it is clear that fighting the boss alone, you lose out, whereas united with your mates you can win.

Unfortunately, for various reasons (which we could discuss another time), when the proletarians start to organise, historically, on a social scale, up till now they have been organised all too often hierarchically- perhaps with the idea that they could beat capitalism by pitting a similar structure against it. The trouble is, that by doing so, they have expropriated themselves of the power to direct their own struggles and their own lives, handing themselves over to a few leaders, who have become leaders partly because they are people who possess certain privileged cultural tools, but above all because they are highly motivated to become leaders - ie motivated by the "will to dominate" as individuals. (After all, the applause and respect of many people enjoyed by a· leader, are highly gratifying).

Now, I think it would be useful to propose these issues for debate by comrades - also with a medium-term practical purpose in view: namely the building of organisational structures of a new type.

This means: we have to understand what kind of organisation Lotta Continua was (before it crumbled); we have to make a more thorough criticism of the "conception of the Party as a will-to-dominate" ie the hierarchical party, whose attitude to the masses is: 'Let’s capture them! Let's replace the bourgeoisie' s hegemony-control over them with our own hegemony-control , instead of thinking how it might be possible to contribute to the process of self-liberation of the masses from all forms of control. Not accidentally, in a letter to LC entitled "The Crusaders of the Revolution", comrade Lorenzino used the term "feudal domains" to describe the schools in Milan that are hegemonised by this or that political organisation. We should therefore also try to understand why Lotta Continua as an organisation "blew up" at the Rimini Congress, and even now is unable to put itself together again - in spite of the fact that the newspaper is being bought and read by more people than ever before, and the enactment of the Historic Compromise is leaving an enormous political vacuum on the left of the PCI."

Soldiers Strike
A group of soldiers write to the paper, describing strike action that they took in
their barracks. The mass movement of democratic and revolutionary soldiers is very widespread - unfortunately it is outside the immediate scope of this
pamphlet to deal with it.

Dear Comrades,

Thursday, 24th March, at the Vittorio Veneto barracks, the soldiers carried out a mess-boycott, in protest against the conditions of life in the barracks. The boycott was almost 100% successful. Only the guard, and about 5 soldiers (out of more than 300) went into the mess to eat. The objectives we have posed in this first bout of the struggle are as follows:

* exit permits every fortnight
* leave every 30-40 days
* elimination of pointless duties (eg PAD - armed patrol duties) and reduction of exercises and army repression.

After the success of our first boycott, there was a boycott of our exit permits (this had an effect in a small town, where the cinemas, bars etc depend on the money of the soldiers). This strike was also very successful.

We soldiers are now discussing and organising to find other forms of struggle. We want to make them even more effective, if necessary keeping them up for long periods in order to get satisfaction of our demands.

Soldiers of the Vittorio Veneto Barracks.

Problems in Brescia
A letter from LC comrades in Concesio, Brescia, about certain problems they face. Lotta Continua April 18th 1977.

Dear Newspaper,
We are the comrades from Villa Carcina and Concesio in Brescia province.
We are writing to inform you that we have commandeered the duplicator from the Brescia branch office, because the comrades in the town leave it looking like a shitheap.

Furthermore, we are convinced that they no longer wish to carry out the class struggle. It seems that recently they have forgotten that there are Christian Democrats in Brescia (hundreds of them), and bosses, and Fascists.

Maybe they think that it's too tiring carrying out the struggle. Well, some of us thought that way too, for a while (and some still do), but now it seems that we've decided that it can be a good thing, as well as being tiring, and it might mean that, in the end, comrades like Francesco Lorusso don't have to die in the streets, and so many comrades won't be left to rot in the prisons, and people won't be shut out of this society, and crazy people won't be segregated, and workers and students will take power in order to liberate themselves, so that there will no longer be any exploitation. ( ... ) Since the majority of Brescia comrades are obviously waverers, we have taken the duplicator, and are extending an invitation through you, dear newspaper, to them to come and discuss with us in our new office.

The Comrades from Villa and Concesio.

Burning Gays?
On July 29th Lotta Continua (which had long been closed to frank and open discussion by gay comrades) published the following two articles, as part of the continuing debate which has now opened in the pages of LC.

"Once again a homosexual has committed suicide in prison.
The facts are already known. He was Giuseppe Bertolini, a painter who worked in Piazza Navona, Rome. He was attacked and beaten last Friday.

He turned to a policeman. He was upset because of what had happened to him, and he had had a little too much to drink. He calls the policeman "incompetent". Now, instead of being the victim, he becomes the criminal. He is arrested on a charge of insulting a public official.

At the San Giacomo prison his injuries were hurriedly dressed. Funnily enough, the doctor didn't seem to notice how agitated he was (or if he did, why did he allow him to be taken off to Regina Coeli prison?).

Bertolini is locked up in the isolation cell. And there, with no possibility of help, Giuseppe Bertolini hanged himself."


"Since the fall of Fascism, the Italian Penal Code has not enacted any specific laws against the "horrible vice", the "sin against nature par excellence", the "shameful disease" - ie homosexuality. The reason is that a Government Report considered the incidence of the "social plague" to be small and therefore irrelevant.

But for years now we have met each other, sought each other out, and loved each other in street toilets, in station lavatories, in parks, in third class cinemas - ignored by public opinion, ridiculed and insulted in the streets, oppressed by the powers-that-be in the family, and ghettoised at work (how many have had to resign because they could not bear the cover-up game!).

The birth, growth and spread of the feminist movement, which has acted in
a practical, everyday way, to undermine male power and capitalist-patriarchal society, has opened the way in Italy. Opened the way for a revolutionary movement press oh f (homo)sexual liberation towards the liberation of polysexual desire and the possibility of the abolition of classes and of gay communism.
( ... )
We shall continue to be gay, to love each other, and to multiply, snatching more and more lives away from the jaws of the Norm. If they want to stop us, they have only two ways of doing so - turning us into merchandise in the ghettos of capitalism, or open and legalised repression. Perhaps there is a third way: the psychiatric hospitals, on the Soviet model."

A sister working on a news-stand in Milan writes to ask whether Lotta Continua newspaper might write something about the problem of pornography, something which affects her a lot. Lotta Continua, April 28th 1977.

Dear Comrades,

I am a woman working in a newspaper kiosk in Milan, and I am sick, very sick, of what I have to do. I am referring to the amount of pornography or pseudopornography that comes pouring into the kiosks every day. This morning I removed 23 titles, and that's the sort of number of items that I am faced with every day. They are offensive to women, they disgust me, and they make me feel sick. What am I going to do about it?

I can't refuse to sell them, because by law I'm bound to sell everything I'm given to sell. I could hide them, not put them out on display, but then I always feel I’m leading a double life, selling out women, a feminist on the one hand and running a kiosk on the other. ( ... ) How the hell can they carry on putting out this damn stuff. "Lola with the magic arse" ... "Claire with the tight cunt" .. "The bestial loves of a 13-year old nympho".... I don't agree with censorship, but I just can’t carry on selling this stuff. And it's not just old men who buy them. Sometimes comrades buy them! I sometimes hear someone ask for 'Le Ore' in the same breath as asking for ‘Lotta Continua‘. I need not tell you what I'd like to do with those papers.

So now, I want the newspaper to start a debate on pornography, and also on the "new pornography" - sadism, violence etc. I want people to shut these kiosks down, by not buying from them any more. And I also want to see magazines that have love and happiness, eroticism and real joy instead of that other junk.

And another thing: I'm often seen as an "easy lay" by men, because I sell those types of magazines, along the lines of "If I sell whores, then I must be a whore too", as one man said to me. This means that I've often had to defend myself against unpleasant scenes. Not to mention the time I found a man masturbating behind the kiosk because he was excited at the sight of "my" magazines. I'll leave it to you to write the article, draw the conclusions etc, and maybe i'll just end up quitting my job.

Patrizia from Milan.

A CP Steward Writes
A trade unionist and CP member from Bologna writes to explain what he felt about the events of March 16th in Bologna (See p.27), after the death of Francesco Lorusso. Lotta Continua March 21st 1977.

I am a worker, and have been a militant in the Communist Party since 1970.

Since 1966 I have worked on the assembly line at Becchi-Zanussi in ForIi. From 1966 to 1970 I lived a life that was full of political contradictions, although I have always been on the side of the workers, come what may. At the end of 1968 they elected me shop steward, and also forced the company to re-instate me when I had been sacked.

I have a lot of sympathy with Lotta Continua: I have lived many moments with this organisation - some which formed me, and some which destroyed me, but overall it has been a negative experience.

Now I am in the Union and in the CP and I believe I am playing a positive role for the workers, who re-elect me each year. But this is not really enough for me. Because everyday I find new problems, contradictions opening up for me. The workers are rightly demanding ... the problems that they and I share sometimes tear my brain apart, and then there's the lousy job, on the line.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, it explains why, on Wednesday March 16th I was present as one of the stewards of the Trade Union meeting in Bologna.

There were so many problems to confront... and a fear which was not only physical ... they bothered me all the way to Bologna... but they' vanished when I got there. I found myself stationed on the corner of via Rizzoli, facing the young people from Lotta Continua. I immediately felt calm. We discussed. Everything went smoothly. There were no provocative slogans, no clubs, but a good, tight presence.

After a bit, Bruno Giorgini, of Lotta Continua, arrived. He played hard: "We're going to line up along the barricades." I answered: "OK". And then the slogan-shouting started. There was a ruffle of nervousness, frowning faces, it only needed a little spark to explode. The space between us and Lotta Continua shrank. We did our best to avoid provocations.

In front of me, familiar faces, friends faces. We don't greet each other, or we pretend not to have seen each other. Then I see Travaglini in front of me, and we stare at each other, staring and questioning each other without saying a word ... hard ... silent. Then the moment passes.

I got angry with one man who wanted to get a look at the "Indians". I push him back, roughly. Sorry, mate, we're not at the zoo. Then Francesco's brother speaks from the back. The atmosphere is tense. I am crying. I think of all the comrades who have been killed - too many, all of them, too many, and I want to shout Stop it! I can't take it any more. I see that my other comrades nearby, who are generally less emotional than me, they too are moved, and that gives me heart. But then something ugly happened. A student turns towards us, to read the statement that Francesco's brother can't manage to read, because he’s so upset. That should have been OK ... no problem for anyone... But some arrogant bloke stepped up and tried to tell him he couldn't speak. At which point we all started shouting and arguing, and finally he was allowed to speak. And now the tension is gone, and I feel completely drained.

At about 6.00pm, having finished my job, I went home, discussing with my comrades about why so many of these young people are drawing away from the workers - or at least from the parties that represent the workers. ( ... )
All these young people, with their problems, their exasperations, their slogans, we can't afford just to leave them alone and abandon them, at least, not if
we want to be a hegemonic class, and not ,simply a bunch of paternalists.
Valerio Pachetti

Dealing with Fascists

A group of Lotta Continua comrades from Casaano d'Adda explain how they have been dealing with the Fascists in their town. Lotta Continua April 27th 1977.

For the second time in two years, the Fascist branch office in Cassano d' Adda has been shut down.

On Wednesday evening, a militant and combative demonstration decided to put an end to the raids and provocations which the· Fascists have been carrying out here, and which they are trying to extend into the whole area.

Last Wednesday came the umpteenth provocation. Two comrades were threatened and hit by a number of fascists.

Shortly afterwards two P.38 bullets were found on the doorstep of the Democrazia Proletaria offices: a clear threat.

The comrades in the area organised, and met on Wednesday evening. There have been a number of neo-Fascists in the town for some time. Their provocations and the long list of attacks, letters, threats etc, has been too much. We have made our answer by closing the MSI (t.n: neo-Fascist) offices in Via Mazzini. It is vital that the comrades living in this area coordinate, in order to root out the terror that the Fascists are imposing in this area, and it is for this reason that the Lotta Continua comrades are proposing the formation of an anti-fascist committee in the Adda region.

The Comrades of the Gorgonzola Section of Lotta Continua.

Male Chauvinists
A letter from the Feminist Collective of Teramo, on the East Coast opposite Rome. They write to inform comrades of the behaviour of certain male Leftists.
Lotta Continua 16th April.

Dear Comrades,
Do you know Ugo and Aldo Di Carlo, Enrico Valeri and.Oscar DiTeodoro? These so-called "comrades" live in Teramo, and we are going to tell you about the sort of violence they are capable of, against women. They came into a shop run by a feminist comrade, and they wrote insults all over the page of Lotta Continua that described the trial of Claudia Caputi (eg Down with Women! Long Live Male Chauvinists!). They attacked the women comrades who were there, verbally, and called us petty bourgeois because we do not practice the armed struggle, and they carried on insulting us, calling us whores, slags,- I wouldn't fancy screwing that one" etc etc. ( ... ) (t.n: they also describe other incidents).

Naturally, the women comrades got angry, and at that point they started showing off. All they could say was: "Calm down ... don't get hysterical. .. it doesn't mean we're not talking to feminists any more ... "These acts of violence might appear to be only verbal, but we experienced them as physical violence against each one of us, and we are no longer just to make verbal replies to things like that. We're no longer prepared to suffer these things every day, even when we find ourselves with men comrades, when they come on with ironic tolerance, false goodwill, open or half-hidden sarcasm and paternalistic interest.

With this letter we want to show clearly that if we women are supposed to be
part of the whole movement (as everybody now seems to be repeating like parrots), then we can't accept men comrades who are also male chauvinist at the same time. Anyone who's against women is against the whole movement. So we are asking the political organisations, and the men comrades who want to build a correct relationship with the women's movement, to isolate certain individuals at every level of their organisations.

Feminist Collective of Teramo.