Part 2: The student movement

The student movement in Italy, as in other Western European countries, became the archetypal movement of opposition of the late sixties. It came to represent and symbolize new forms of rebellion and discontent as it was not a residue of older historical antagonisms, and arose in a period of relative growth and prosperity. Education was widely heralded by governments and parties, especially of the social democratic Left, as the means of levelling social differences, broadening the basis of citizenship and guaranteeing future prosperity. However, it produced the bitter fruit of conflict. Youth - the generation destined to create the future utopia - turned into a social problem and the angry conscience of a divided society.

The impact of the student movement owed much to the fact that it was an aspect of an organic crisis. Students were the first social group to mobilize en masse when conflict in the workplaces and in society as a whole was at its lowest level since the mid fifties. Moreover, it was the first time that students emerged as a social subject in their own right. Previously they had acted in support of other groups in a subordinate capacity. They had taken up general political questions. Now, students were important numerically. They were part of a new social grouping - youth - that came into being with the extension of schooling. But the student movement’s novelty and its significance as a model of social action gave it a historical role out of all proportion to the students’ relatively marginal position in society. In this section, the student movement will be analysed in the period starting from its origins in the early 1960s to its eclipse by the workers’ movement in 1969. Chapter 4 deals with the educational reforms of the Centre-Left government, which created or aggravated many of the conditions that provoked the student revolt. Subsequent chapters deal with the movement in the universities, and the emergence of a specific ‘student politics’, with case studies of the movements at the Catholic and State Universities in Milan in 1968-9. In addition there is an examination of the movement in the Milanese schools. Lastly, there are chapters on the student movement’s impact on the education system, and on its more diffused effects on political and cultural life in Italy. Although student politics grew up within the institutions, the development of the theme of ‘student-worker unity’ led logically to more general political orientations. The popularization of ideas about ‘cultural revolution’ meant that the activities of radical intellectuals working not only within fields like theatre but also in the professions were rethought, with important consequences for the spread of conflicts into every sphere of Italian society.