18. The Revolutionary Left in Italy

Submitted by Steven. on August 14, 2009

18. The Revolutionary Left in Italy

What follows is a loose account of the revolutionary Left in Italy. For understanding the very early days, there are a number of available sources (see the Note on page 124), some of which are available in this country. However, this list was drawn up by an ex-Lotta Continua comrade.

Il Manifesto - Partito di Uniti Proletaria per il Communismo: (Daily paper: Il Manifesto).
In 1970, some PCI central committee members were thrown out of the Party for producing a magazine which was considered "out of line". The magazine then became a daily paper in 1971, and the organisation fused with the remnants of PSIUP (Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity), after both had failed to win any seats in the 1972 General Election (PSIUP got 600,000 votes, Manifesto got 220,000). In the General Election of June 20th 1976, which saw the big advances by the PCI, they combined with AO, LC and MLS in the single revolutionary electoral body known as Proletarian Democracy (Democrazia Proletaria - DP). Of the 6 deputies elected, 3 were of this group.

It has some following among some shop stewards, and a number of Trade Union officials are members (part of the so-called "Trade Union Left"). Its political line is often criticised for not being a deep enough critique of the PCl. In fact, they advocate a "return to Togliatti", and can be described as a sort of ginger- group to the left of the PCI, aiming to convert the PCI and the Unions "to socialist policies". It opposes the Historic Compromise, but this opposition is weakened by its fear of offending the CP. The newspaper is written in pretty high-brow style, and as a party it is attractive to intellectuals who wish to pose as "left of the PCI" but without making a drastic break. It recently split while trying to unite with AO.

Avanguardia Operai AO: (Daily paper: Il Quotidiano dei Lavoratori).
This organisation started in 1968/9 in the Unitary Base Committees (CUB) that sprang up in a number of factories and schools, especially in Milan, which is still AO's strongest base. Avanguardia Operaia calls itself Marxist-Leninist, but has been called Trotskyist by some (it has 'fraternal relations' with the SWP in England). It expanded nationally by absorbing other, smaller, local groups. 2 of the 6 deputies elected in 1976 for DP were AO candidates, but one of them (Corvisieri) resigned from AO earlier this year (but not from Parliament), accusing his ex-party colleagues of selling-out AO to the PdUP in the projected unification between the two groups. This unification had not gone as planned, in fact, because have split, and the minority of each has joined the majority of the other. Both PdUP and AO have played little part in the recent movement, but mainly "tailed along behind it criticising and gesticulating".

Lotta Continua (Daily paper: Lotta Continua).
LC started in 1968 in Pisa, with the split of the old " Potere Operaio" (The other half, Potere Operaio - Workers' Power - subsequently grew to national status, but then dissolved a few years ago). LC took off in Turin in the Hot Autumn of 1969, with the Worker Student Assemblies (see account in Red Notes No.2). Subsequently it expanded all over Italy, being the only national group to have a certain strength in the South.

At its height it had anything up to 50,000 militants, 100 full-time paid officers, at least one branch office in nearly all of Italy's 94 provinces (in Rome alone, a city of 3 million inhabitants, it had 21 neighbourhood branch offices at one point). Traditionally, LC has never produced much theoretical work, and was accused of having no strategy, only tactics, "which changed from week to week". However, its strength has been that it was always in the thick of all proletarian struggles (housing, students, workers, unemployed, soldiers, prisoners and women's struggles). As it grew in size, its organisational apparatus became more elaborate and hierarchical, and at the 1st Congress (held in Rome in December 1974) it officially adopted a Leninist type of statute (actually modelled on the statute of the Chinese Communist Party).

The collapse of the organisation can be dated as starting on December 6th 1975, when a group of LC's Rome heavy squad (servizio d'ordine) physically assaulted a 30,000-strong national march of women only, who were demonstrating for the legalisation of abortion. (The reason they gave was that they wanted to be in the march too!) That evening, 300 furious LC feminists invaded the National Committee, which happened to be in session, demanding the heads of those responsible. The organisation nearly suffered a total exodus of all the women there and then - but this was put off by giving. them a bigger say in the power structure.

In any event, the organisation managed to hold together until the June 20th elections in 1976, when a big victory was expected (forecasts of 3% of the vote were being made), which would have made the DP decisive in forming a left majority in Parliament. The disappointing result (only 1.5%, and LC only got one of the 6 DP seats), caused the crisis of the organisation to precipitate.

This came to a head at the 2nd Congress, held at Rimini in November 1976, where, in an atmosphere of indescribable confusion, the General Secretary's introductory Report went unheeded, and the women held separate meetings "for women only" - a move soon imitated by the workers (which left the traditional male intellectual leaders rather out of things). The leadership was attacked, especially by the women, and accused of having expropriated the rank and file of their political decision-making power over the years. The old "traditional" , "sacrificial“, no-fun style of political work came under fire. There was much talk of integrating the "political" and the “personal” aspects of life.

It is said that the General Secretary burst into tears. He confessed that he had in fact enjoyed being a powerful leader-figure (see pp.93-6). In any event, it was a highly emotion-charged experience, and those who participated said it was impossible to describe the feel of it to anyone who hadn't been there. The leadership was changed, a "provisional" National Committee was elected, and it was decided that lithe Congress would continue at local level".

Since then the organisation has just crumbled away, and hundreds of branches have closed down. During the events from February 1977 onwards, LC militants basically "dissolved" themselves into the movement, where they each acted individually. The newspaper, on the other hand, has been selling more copies than ever before (in 1976 it averaged 13,000 copies a day; by March 1977 this jumped to 23,000, and in many places more than doubled. (In December 1977 the figures were 35,000 copies sold every day). The newspaper has been acting, basically, as the voice of the unaffiliated majority of comrades in the movement.

The sudden collapse of Lotta Continua is a crucially important fact for revolutionaries in other countries to understand.

A Note on the Revolutionary Daily Press:
All the political daily papers in Italy are distributed nationally, so that each kiosk has at least one copy of each paper. The kiosk-owner's own political opinions are not allowed to influence his choice of stock, so Communist vendors sell even fascist papers and vice-versa. This is a great help to the revolutionary Left, of course.

MLS - Movimento dei Lavoratori per il Socialismo - Workers' Movement for Socialism: (Periodical: Fronte Popolare).
This group, which is smaller than the other three, also included candidates in the DP election lists, but none were elected. It is mainly based in Milan, though with local branches in some other towns. It is the largest group of the "Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist-Maoist" tradition. It is criticised by many for heavy dogmatism, and the Autonomists even accuse them of being "agents of the bourgeoisie", Together with Lotta Continua and the Radical Party, they joined in the 8-referendum signature-collecting campaign earlier in 1977 (see below).

There are various other very minor Marxist-Leninist groups, some numbering
only a score of militants or less. The PCdl, which was the only party officially recognised by People's China, recently sided with Albania in the dispute over the "3 Worlds". Stella Rossa, another group, although dating back at least 1968, is today only known because they took over an old convent in Rome and are organising various mass cultural activities there (films, theatre, pop groups etc).

GCR - Gruppi Comunisti Rivoluzionari - Revolutionary Communist Groups.
Members of he IVth International. Up until 1967-8 this was the largest grouping left of the PCI. Deep entryist into the PCI, and well-known for their leftist resolutions in PCI conferences. They see the "masses" developing through "their organisations" - the PSI, PCI, Trade Unions etc. Membership in 1967 about 2,500; from 1970 onwards about 300. Now even smaller than MLS.
Trotskyism has never gained much influence in Italy, unlike Britain.

There are a variety of tiny groups that hearken back to the thought of Bordiga, first national secretary of the PCI in the 1920s. Lotta Comunista, generally reputed as a Bordigist group, gained a certain notoriety a couple of years ago, for its very rigid dogmatism. They often fought physical battles with other comrades, and were accused of having accepted not-so-ex fascists as militant~.

Autonomia Operaia - Workers' Autonomy. (Various publications, including Rosso, Truce, and Never Again without a Gun).
Autonomia Operaia is not a national organisation, but a wide and growing "area" including a-number of local organisations that agree on some issues, but disagree on others. They are, however, all bitterly opposed to the PCI and the Trade Unions, whom they regard as class enemies (and by whom they are considered to be fascists). Their class basis is mainly the more desperate jobless immigrants from the South, though they have some support in Northern factories too. In Rome they are popularly known as the "Volsci" from their HQ in Via dei Volsci, where they have a radio station. They represent the "hard-line" wing of the movement, proposing that "the level of struggle must be raised", which often means that it be raised to armed confrontation with the police. While one could not say that they actually killed the policeman Passamonti, they certainly shed no tears.

They were the only force to act as an organised fraction inside the Movement, but they alienated many comrades by the strong-arm tactics they used in their attempts to win a majority in the Assemblies, as well as by their proposals, which are considered "adventurist" by many. They are not popular with the
feminists or the gays, for they tend to regard both as a frivolous waste of
time. They have grown, however, since many comrades say: "Well, at least they are doing something!" And they too are usually to be found in the thick of proletarian struggles. They accuse Lotta Continua of getting "institutionalised". They should not be confused with the "creative autonomists" of Bologna, who are much like the Metropolitan Indians of Rome.

Metropolitan Indians
This again is not an organisation but a sector of the movement who gained much publicity by their use of biting irony and wit to make fun of the PCI, as well as using theatricals, war-paint, mime, fancy dress etc.

BR and NAP
These are underground organisations, who have declared war on the State. They carry out this war by killing and kidnapping, and shooting in the legs right-wing magistrates, journalists, industrialists, foremen etc. Many comrades are very suspicious of them, and say they are manoeuvred by the Fascists, the CIA etc. The BR (Red Brigades) is mainly Northern-based, and is said to recruit in the big factories; While the NAP (Nuclei Armati Proletari) recruits from the prison population in the South.

Radical Party
The Partito Radicale is a phenomenon on its own. It has grown recently from far-off tiny beginnings to get 400,000 votes in 1976, and 4 deputies. They are a bourgeois civil-rights party, campaigning for things like divorce, abortion, conscientious objection, ecology, drugs etc, and making wide use of referendums. Although they are not revolutionary, and are non-violent, and even "democratically" talk to Fascists, they have been so cold-shouldered by the "official" left (PCI and to a lesser extent PSI) that they find themselves often campaigning side by side with revolutionary comrades. Their leader, Marco Pannella, is a flamboyant character who has often gone on hunger strikes to obtain time on TV. They are dead-against the Vatican, and are hated by the Catholics (and hence - Historic Compromise - also by the PCI). They have a radio station in Rome

Cani Sciolti
However most comrades in the movement belong to none these organisations at present. They are known as "cani sciolti" - loose dogs. The term "cani sciolti" used to refer to militants who believed in the idea of a "Party", but could not find one they thought had a "correct line". However, in the present state of general flux on the revolutionary left, the very idea of the Party has undergone a severe crisis so the term has lost much of its specific meaning