By this time one thing was clear in those mass meetings. The impression all the workers had was that this was a momentous point in the conflict between the bosses and us, a decisive moment , . . And in fact during the meetings frequent mention was made of the word revolution.

We made holes in all the wire mesh grilles and then we made the torches; the torches were made with bits of sheets tied tightly together and then soaked in oil and for this too we agreed a time in the middle of the night we all lit the oil of the torches and we pushed these brands through the holes in the grilles but there was no one there to see this either the torches burned for a long time it must have been a beautiful sight from outside all those torches flickering against the black wall of the prison in the middle of that boundless plain but the only ones who could see the torchlight were those few people driving their cars that sped like tiny darts in the distance on that black ribbon of the motorway several kilometres from the prison or maybe an aeroplane flying above but they fly very high up there in the silent black sky and they see nothing.

The above quotations come from two novels by Nanni Balestrini: the first from Vogliamo tutto, published in 1971, and the second from Gli invisibili, which came out in 1987 1 They deal respectively with the beginning and the end of the period and the movements that are the subject of this study - a beginning that is bright and vibrant with hope and expectation as protest spreads and individuals find themselves through of collective action; an end that is filled with a sense of personal isolation, despair and darkness. Balestrini’s interpretation is, of course, highly individual, and he uses the licence of fiction. Nonetheless (and this is the reason for starting with his words), he reminds us of the point of view, thoughts and feelings of the participants of the movements, those who, in the Italian expression, lived the experience ‘on their skins’, often paying a heavy price for their illusions and their commitment.

However, it has perhaps become possible in the last few years to gain a more detached and analytic understanding of the post-’68 decade without losing a sense of what it meant at the time. There is now no longer the same obligation either to celebrate and justify in the name of a cause or to condemn ’68 and all its works as the postwar equivalent of the Fall. While this divide characterized much of the literature at the time of the tenth anniversary, in 1988 a number of studies appeared which were historical rather than polemical in approach. 2. Indeed, a note of irony and self- consciousness has crept in, sometimes bordering on cynicism, and this marks a change in what Raymond Williams calls a ‘structure of feeling’.3 Until 1980-81 (though it is difficult to pinpoint a date), there was a certain continuity in people’s conceptions of themselves with the ideas identified with ’68, especially among those who had been participants. Then, from the early 1980s onwards, that past came to resemble a foreign country. It is as if a frontier had been crossed and the language and points of reference had changed.

However, in the Italian case, the significance of the years 1968-9 as a watershed has been hard to forget. The student revolt, followed by the Hot Autumn of industrial disputes in 1969, shook the foundations of the Republic, leading to a decade of intense conflicts. These brought both positive and negative consequences. For a summary of the beneficial effects, it is worth quoting Umberto Eco: 'Even though all visible traces of 1968 are gone, it profoundly changed the way all of us, at least in Europe, behave and relate to one another. Relations between bosses and workers, students and teachers, even children and parents, have opened up. They’ll never be the same again.' 4 As for the regressive developments set in motion in the wake of 1968, the most obvious example is the rise of ‘black’ and ‘red’ terrorism and the formation of a clandestine Italy bent on the destruction of the country’s democratic institutions - what Giorgio Galli has called L’Italia sotterranea.5 And although parliamentary democracy survived these threats, the adoption of draconian legislation and repression produced cruel distortions in the administration of justice, increasing the rights of the state at the expense of the citizen.6

The events of 1968-9 can be said to have led to contradictory developments: on the one hand, to modernization, democratization and the growth of civil society; on the other, to endemic social conflict, continued institutional blockage and a polarization of politics into repression and terrorism. However, it is easy and misleading to construct a simple schema of cause and effect. The problem of analysing the continuities and breaks in the forms of oppositional politics, and assessing the extent to which they contributed to a more open or closed society is a key one for this book. Its focus, however, is on social movements.

Social movements, of course, entered centre stage in this period, not only in Italy but in many other countries.7 The student and worker movements of the late sixties were joined by movements of women, youth, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and others. This phenomenon was important not just for the social groups in question, but for the political, social and cultural life of the societies involved. The meaning of democracy, for instance, was made a matter for debate by the advocates of ‘direct democracy’ in schools and workplaces,8 whereas feminists began to redraw the boundaries of the ‘public’ and the ‘private’. Social movements can be seen, therefore, to offer an ideal vantage point for looking at the changes being brought about in a society, and for understanding the reactions to them. At the same time, the movements are themselves often laboratories of experimentation, incubating future ideas and forms of behaviour.

The Italian case is especially interesting from the point of view of social movements. In the post-’68 period in Italy they were more extensive then in many other countries, spreading into every area of society; they were also often more intensive, including extreme forms of action, and more I sustained, lasting for a longer period of time. Whereas, for instance, the May mobilizations in France were short-lived, in Italy the maggio strisciante was drawn out until the end of 1969, if not longer.9 The movements, moreover, took particular forms because of the peculiarities of the national history and development, as witnessed by the role of southern immigrants in the strikes of 1969, or by the role of Catholicism. While the Italian case belongs firmly to the kinds of social movement which arose in Westem Europe, it had specific characteristics.

The key importance of social movements in recent Italian history can be appreciated in the rich and intelligent reflections and discussions to which they have given rise, These range from debates in the world of art and design,10 through to those in works of fiction, political theory, sociology and semiology, a point that is illustrated by the career and writings of Umberto Eco.

Eco in the early 1960s was a member of an avant garde circle that promoted the subversion of literary orthodoxies and aesthetic canons; in 1968 he championed civil rights and was a participant and interlocutor in " the struggle to change universities, teaching practices, and how the idea of culture was understood; subsequently, as a columnist, he commented on the methods, objectives and messages of the social movements that traversed Italian society. His The Name of the Rose, published in 1980, can be read as a political allegory in which the debates about poverty, authority, inquiry and persecution set in a medieval monastery deal with issues raised by the conflicts of the seventies, especially terrorism.11

However, the most developed considerations on social movements have come from Italian sociologists. Their empirical studies and theoretical work are remarkable by any standards, and hopefully, if it does nothing else, this book will show the value of their contribution. The most impressive single research project is the study of industrial conflict carried out under Alessandro Pizzorno at the State University of Milan and published in six volumes called Lotte operaie e sindacato, 1968-72.12 Otherwise, the leading writers in the field include Alberto Melucci, whose work is slowly becoming available in English, and Francesco Alberoni, whose Movimenti e istituzioni represents a landmark13 Pizzorno, whose approach helped create a school of sociology, developed analyses based on ' concepts of representation' drawn from Gramsci and Durkheim. Melucci, on the other hand, has switched attention away from the relationship of social actors to the political system or market, and towards exploration of the networks of meaning elaborated by and within social movements. In fact, it would be possible to reconstruct the close relationship between the evolution of the movements and the evolution of sociological theory, showing the interaction as a two-way process. Whereas in the early 1970s the sociologists’ interests broadly corresponded to the political orientations of the movements (in the sense of their relationship to the political system), by the end of the decade the concern with subjectivity and social and cultural identity expressed within the movements seemed to make the previous model redundant.14

Yet while there is now a considerable literature in Italian on social movements, there has not been any attempt to provide a synthesis which looks at their development historically. The movements have also tended to be taken singly rather than as an ensemble. One of the objectives of this book is, therefore, to give an overview and to make some critical assessment of the literature in the light of its reconstruction and interpretation of .. the movements for the period 1968-78.

States of Emergency is more or less chronological in structure. Part I covers the period prior to the events of 1968 and aims to uncover the latent tensions which later erupted into open conflict. It provides an introduction to the peculiarity of the Italian crisis, relating it to the country’s historical development as the ‘first of the last, and the last of the first’, a country which only became predominantly urban and industrial in the late fifties and early sixties. Parts II and III deal respectively with the student and workers’ movements in the years 1968-9. This section forms the core of the book as these two movements, it is argued, established the coordinates for the direction political opposition would take in the following decade. It was not just a matter of what actually happened, but of the mythic status that the late-sixties revolt acquired. Part IV is, in fact, l more concerned with the appropriation of that legacy than with measuring the accuracy of reflections on the previous movements. It takes the examples of left-wing terrorism, the youth movement and the women’s movement as three case studies. The focus here is on the formative years of terrorism (rather than its point of maximum development), the so-called ‘movement of ’77’, which saw the emergence of a ‘youth politics’, and the campaigns over abortion, which marked a crucial stage in the development of a feminist politics in Italy. In the final chapter, some concluding observations are made about the relationship of the language of politics in the 1980s to that of the earlier movements.

This study, however, makes no claim to be comprehensive. It is, above all, a study of social movements in the northern Italian city of Milan, although observations are made about the Italian experience more broadly. This requires a word of explanation to help put the Milan movements in a national context.

Taking Milan as the vantage-point from which to survey Italian social movements as a whole inevitably involves difficulties. In fact, the Milanese experience cannot be said to typify or represent national developments. These varied from city to city (not to mention towns and villages). Milan is a city with its own particular social and economic structure, and ’ political and cultural traditions. However, its importance to Italian life, and its role as a centre for a great diversity of activities, meant that Milan was also a centre of social conflict.

Milan has been called the ‘real capital’ (il capitale morale) of Italy because it is a major commercial and industrial centre where many multi-national companies have their headquarters, in preference to Rome. Apart from being the home of La Scala, the opera house, and Il Corriere della Sera (the Italian equivalent of The Times), Milan has a complex cultural infrastructure. This includes publishing houses (these accounted for half the capital and a quarter of the employees in the sector in 1968); three leading universities; and numerous theatres, cinemas, and so on. Histor- ically, Milan had a crucial role in the formation of the nation·state, while its geographical position has helped make it a communications crossroads and the most cosmopolitan of Italian cities 15 In the early 1960s, Milan was the symbol of the ‘economic miracle’ and progressive modernism, But at the end of the decade it became a theatre of urban conflict.

Because Milan was a cultural, economic and political centre in the 1960s and 1970s, it was also a site of a wide range of social movements. The universities and engineering factories were in the eye of the storm in 1968-9, and in the following years urban conflicts over housing and other resources were an important feature in the city’s life. The various movements, notably the feminist movement, built up networks and counter-cultural activities so that an ‘alternative Milan’ came into being.16 Thus, although the Milanese case cannot be taken as representative in a simple sense, the rationale for studying this city lies in the range of the movements which developed there, and the fact that it constituted a point of reference for opposition forces elsewhere in Italy. In 1968-9 only Turin could contest Milan’s primacy.

This study is provisional in many respects, and cannot claim to be definitive. While it aims to provide a historical perspective, it is unavoidably conditioned by the contemporary nature of the events and processes being described and analysed. The difficulties have already been alluded to in commenting on pendulum swings in how ’68 has been viewed from one anniversary to another. The proximity of the events also means that the sources on which this study is based are restricted. Use has been made mainly of contemporary published material - daily papers, magazines, journals, and emphemera such as leaflets, manifestos, and so on. Nor was it always easy to get access to documentation. Libraries and institutes are only just beginning to collect and organize archives for the period, and noserious attempt has been made to build up oral records 17 Therefore, private collections were used, along with tape-recorded interviews and field notes, particularly for PartsII and III; Part IV is more dependent on secondary sources. Future historians will have the advantage of archives, but material will not be available for some time to come (thirty years for the state archives; over fifty years for the Vatican archives). They will also have access to more personal documents: letters, diaries, photographs, and so on. Although much can be done in theinterim in terms of oral historical work, its validity depends on being able to test it with reference to other sources.18

There is growing recognition within Italy of the need to gain a better understanding of this period of turbulent transition running from the late 1960s to the end of the 1970s. A number of conferences organized in 1988 and 1989, 19 and a spate of new publications are signs of this new · interest.20 Moreover, it is a period which is receiving increasing attention from English-speaking scholars. 21 I hope, therefore, that this study will feed into this work. I hope also that it will make a contribution towards current debates about the changing nature of oppositional politics in contemporary Europe 22 and put the spotlight on the cultural as well as political dimensions of social movements.

  • 1. Nanni Balestrini, Vogliamo tutto, Milan 1974, first edn, 1971, p. 106; Gli invisibili, Milan 1987, p. 280; in English translation by Liz Heron, The Unseen, London 1989.
  • 2. Perhaps the most interesting book to come out in Italy is Peppino Ortoleva’s Saggio sui movimenti del 1968 in Europa e in America, Rome 1988
  • 3. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution, London 1971, first edn. 1961, pp. 64-88.
  • 4. Scott Sullivan, ‘Master of the Signs`, Newsweek, 22 December 1986, p. 49.
  • 5. Giorgio Galli, Italia sotteranea. Storia, politica e scandali, Bari 1983.
  • 6. The novelist, Leonardo Sciascia, went as far as writing: ‘If in reply to those in Italy (and I include myself) who ask about Sakharov and the plight of Russian dissidents Chernenko was to suggest looking rather at what is happening to our administration of justice, it would be a correct and well-deserved answer, Nuovi Argomenti, October-December 1984.
  • 7. The metaphor of the stage should perhaps be replaced by that of the television screen since this was the first time in history that protest across the world was beamed almost live from continent to continent; see Anthony Smith, The Shadow in the Cave, London - 1973, pp. 73-111.
  • 8. For the best critical account of the theories of democracy under discussion, see Norberto Bobbio, The Future of Democracy, Cambridge 1987.
  • 9. For a comparative study of social conflict in this period, see Colin Crouch and Alessandro Pizzorno, eds, Resurgence of Class Conflict in Western Europe, London 1977
  • 10. For the debate on the politics of design, see Penny Sparke, Italian Design, London 1988, pp. 161-97
  • 11. The relationship between Eco’s cultural analyses and the social movements is most evident in the anthologies of his articles; ll costume di casa, Milan 1973; Dalla periferia dell ’impero, Milan 1977; and Sette anni di desiderio, Milan 1983.
  • 12. The findings of the research are contained in the last volume: Alessandro Pizzorno, ed., Lotte operaie e sindacato: il ciclo di lotte 1968-72, Bologna 1977.
  • 13. For the importance of the concept of `social movement’ to the development of sociology in Italy, see Paolo Ceri, ‘l quattro volti dell' anti-socioIogia’, Quaderni di Sociologia, 4-5, 1985, pp. 53-96; and Carlo Carboni, ed., Classi sociali e movimenti in Italia. 1970-85, Bari 1986.
  • 14. 14. See Alberto Melucci, ed., Altri codici, Bologna 1984.
  • 15. E. Dalmasso, Milan: capital economique de l'Italie, Paris 1971.
  • 16. A new development in the genre of the guidebook in the midseventies, the‘aIternative guide’ provided a map of this other city; for Milan, see Giuseppe Ricci, Claudio Marras and Mauro Radice, Milano alternativa, Milan 1975.
  • 17. I mainly used the library of the Fondazione Feltrinelli. Hopefully, in the wake of the twentieth anniversary of 1968 more will be done to collect material.
  • 18. For the foremost work in the fields of oral history in Italy, see the studies of Luisa Passerini: Storia orale, Turin 1978, and her semiautobiographical Autoritratto di gruppo, Florence 1988.
  • 19. For example, the conference organized by the Department of History of the University of Turin in November 1988; 'Universita' e societa' italiana. Le culture e i luoghi' and conference organized by the Istituto Lombardo per la storia del Movimento di Liberazione in Brescia in March 1989.
  • 20. The anniversary year, 1988, was marked by a deluge of anniversary editions in the Italian press, especially the weeklies, L'Espresso and Panorama, the best of which were found in the special numbers of the daily paper, Il Manifesto. Books include celebratory ones, like Mario Capanna’s Formidabili quegli anni, Milan 1988, and Nanni Balestrini and Primo Moroni’s L'orda d’oro, Milan 1988, but also Ortoleva’s Saggio sui movimenti del ’68.
  • 21. The most notable recent work on the period is Sidney Tarrow’s Democracy and Disorder; Protest and Politics in Italy 1965-1975, Oxford 1989, which came out as this book was going to press. The publication in the very near future of Paul Ginsborg’s Italy since 1943, and Stephen Gundle’s study of the Communist Party and cultural change, will represent major contributions to our understanding.
  • 22. A debate promoted by writings such as John Keane‘s Democracy and Civil Society, London 1988, and Boris Frankel’s The Post-Industrial Utopians, Cambridge 1987.