Part 1: Origins of the crisis of 1968-9

In 1968-9 Italy experienced an ‘Organic crisis’, in which there was a massive withdrawal of support for the structures of representation, and an abrupt increase in political demands. The crisis of 1968-9 arose within specific institutional contexts, especially in the universities and schools, and in the factories, as will be shown in subsequent chapters; but to understand its dimensions it is necessary to look at its historical origins. This is not to say that the crisis was an inevitable outcome of Italian historical development; rather, the aim is to highlight some of the features, especially of the postwar period, which help explain the range of probings and testing of the ‘social contract’.

This background to the main study of the social movements will be divided into three chapters. The first will look at the relationship of the subordinate classes of Italian society to the state, taking a cue from some of Gramsci’s writings on the question. The second will deal with the organizations of civil society; it will focus in particular on relations between employers and workers, and between the working class and its representative bodies (the unions and left-wing parties). The third chapter will concentrate on the perceptions of an injustice and the formulation of ‘standards of condemnation’ which anticipated and prepared the mass social awakening and mobilization at the end of the 1960s.

This outline of the period before the eruption of the social movements is necessarily selective and partial; it attempts to delineate developments leading up to the crisis, not to provide a historical account of the postwar period.

Themes are introduced in these chapters from a historical perspective which are taken up and developed in parts II and III. The crisis of reformism is discussed in detail in chapter 4, in terms of the educational policies of the Centre-Left government which provoked a storm of protest from students. Distrust of the State is explored in chapter 11 with particular relation to the conflicting conceptions of law and order thrown up by the student and workers’ movement. The ‘moral outrage’ expressed in the slogans of workers’ demonstrations is connected up in chapter 16 to historical grievances. The importance of the historical legacy will be seen in how the social actors perceived injustices and how the social movements drew on the past to make sense of and ennoble their struggles.