8. Ludd and Councilism
In 1969, Cesarano was personally involved in the battles in the front line of the movement: first in the Pirelli CUB,1 then the occupation of the Hotel Comercio in downtown Milan, and then the self-management of the publishing enterprise, Il Saggiatore. That was when he joined Ludd.
Aside from internal differences (in fact, the group was far from homogeneous), Cesarano’s participation was undoubtedly in accordance with the original and novel character of this group. In fact, Ludd was conceived—beginning with the choice of its name—as the product of a new development, a shift of perspective on the basis of which the workers movement, which had been considered to be defunct at least since May 1968, was no longer seen as the springboard of action.
Instead, Ludd sought to found its activity upon the historical precedent that was the inevitable basis for its critique. And it knew quite well what the problem was: councilist theory was almost entirely unknown in Italy.
In the revolutionary upheavals that followed the end of the First World War, “extremism”, characterized by the rejection of electoralism and of the united front with the socialists, was expressed in Italy by the Bordiguist current, which was nonetheless totally hostile towards councilism and drew a sharp distinction between the political party and economic-social and administrative organizations. During this era, the councilist position was represented by the Turin group, Ordine Nuovo (Gramsci, Terracini, Togliatti, Tasca), which emerged as a significant force, together with the anarchists, during the factory occupations in September 1920. Bordiga’s position, on the other hand, as he recounted much later, was: “We must not occupy the factories and the offices, but the State and all its institutions”. Ultimately, despite the definitely “extremist” positions of its initial period, Ordine Nuovo later became an instrument for reunification with the “centrist” socialist majority, which was imposed by Lenin and Zinoviev’s Comintern leadership, a process that delivered the cadres to the “Bolshevization” of the party and its Stalinist degeneration.
As a result, there was no councilist tradition in Italy comparable to the Dutch-German current (except for a tiny minority of émigrés after the two world wars, such as the groups formed by Michele Pappalardi, Piero Corradi and their journals, Réveil Communiste and l’Ouvrier Communiste). The rediscovery of the German revolution and of council communism took place after 1968, and was largely due to the activity of La Vieille Taupe in France.2
In the first issue of Ludd, the minutes of the meeting held in Brussels by Information Correspondence Ouvrière in July 1969, at which almost all existing councilist currents were represented, were published. It featured the texts of the “immediatists”, who focused their practice on forms of the immediate realization of the critique of everyday life (illegalism, immediate rejection of work, hedonism) and who had engaged in a harsh critique of the other groups at Brussels. At first, some members of Ludd clearly sympathized with this attitude. The Milan group, including Cesarano, certainly placed the critique of everyday life at the center of its interests, expressed in the search for an extreme coherence in personal relations and in the attempt to reveal “real needs”.
Ludd also published Jean Barrot’s "Critique of Ultraleft Ideology", which took up the thread of the critique of ultraleftism made by the Bordiguist current. Barrot, criticizing the councilist ideology, rejected the self-management tendency by defending instead the essential aspects of Marx’s work: the critique of value and of the capitalist valorization process, whose rupture and abolition constitute the very content of the communist revolution.
Ludd therefore cannot be considered to be part of the councilist tradition: by firmly deciding to distance itself from the project for self-management in its entirety, it also turned its back on the legacy of historical councilism. In fact, Ludd did not recognize itself to be the heir of any historical current, arguing that the proletariat had no program to realize. This negative connotation of its critique (the end of politics, of militantism, of the workers and trade union movement, of activism) would have a determinate impact on the subsequent developments of the activity and influence of the radical communist current (in the 1967-1971 period).
The period of reflux, of course, was at first perceived as a return to Stalinist or neo-Stalinist political organizations. In late 1969 there was a veritable boom among these organizations (among others, Lotta Continua, Potere Operaio and the despicable Movemento Studentesco of Capanna and Toscano,3 which engaged in ruthless repression against “provocateurs”), imposing upon revolutionaries the need to clearly distinguish and establish a line of demarcation.
This requirement had a tendency to assume a negative expression, above all in the form of the rejection of militantism, the repudiation of politics and proselytism, and a veritable “nihilist” questioning of any public intervention carried out beyond the narrow circle of comrades. It was also expressed by means of “exemplary actions”, or taking advantage of the occasions offered by encounters with the police to discharge accumulated rage. The times were changing, however, and in the next cycle—1971 to 1976—the influence of the revolutionaries would be very much reduced.
Then the radical current began to self-destruct, in such a way that when there was a resurgence of a cycle of struggle between 1977 and 1979, the radical current was already on its knees.
9. The Retreat. Azione Libertaria and Invariance
We have always considered December 12, 19694 as the date that concluded the cycle of 1968, and inaugurated the first period of the decline. However, like all historical dates, this one has a relative value. This is especially true when one takes into account the international context, in which the last important struggle, the great Polish revolt, took place at the end of 1970. That year also witnessed the American invasion of Cambodia, while in the United States the movement against the war reached its maximum level of intensity. Then the famous events in Ohio5 capped off this period with a resounding conclusion, while the U.S. troops and especially the fleet in Vietnam engaged in a constant series of mutinies and incidents of insubordination. Even in Italy, 1970 was a year of major social agitation, despite the repression and the end of the “hot autumn”. The universities and the high schools were still occupied, while the core groups of the workers avoided being absorbed by the “extraparliamentary” groups, creating their own autonomous networks for mutual contacts. In Milan, an anarchist group directly influenced by “radical” elements, Azione Libertaria, mobilized three thousand people for two demonstrations. At one of these demonstrations, held on the first anniversary of the massacre of Piazza Fontana, organized by Azione Libertaria against the recommendations of the rest of the anarchist movement—which did not want to participate due to the fact that the police had prohibited the demonstrations—violent clashes took place in downtown Milan, during which Saverio Saltarello, a young militant of Rivoluzione Comunista, was murdered by the police.
At this time Azione Libertaria broke with the libertarian movement and, establishing relations with Ludd, initiated a significant project to attain a more profound understanding of the concept and practice of workers autonomy, in a way that was similar to that of Information Correspondence Ouvrière.
The central hypothesis of the current was that it had to develop the content of workers autonomy, and in order to do so, it had to make contact with the factory groups that had refused to be absorbed by the extraparliamentary groups. It focused above all on the theme of the conflict in the workplace and published various journals, one of which, in 1971, carried the prophetic name of Autonomia Operaia (the others were Azione Libertaria in 1970 and Proletari Autonomi in 1971). It must be said that, compared with the later and more famous tendency of the same name of the period 1975-1979, the former experience was qualitatively superior insofar as it was not contaminated by the Stalinist and militarist ideology that the Autonomia Operaia of 1977 was incapable of entirely ridding itself. Later, a break took place between two factions: those who simply wanted to link up with the factory groups, on the one hand; and on the other hand, those radical communists who already perceived the coming decline and who were trying to elaborate a theoretical activity at the same time that they were trying to “approach” groups like Lotta Continua, Potere Operaio and the Colletivo Politico Metropolitano, that were occasionally allied with radicals and anarchists up until 1971.
The Bordiguist theoretical influence was obvious. Just as in other situations the principle theoretical point of reference had been Ludd and La Vieille Taupe, now it was Invariance, even more than the Situationist International, which was only known up to a certain point (the main reference points were above all the Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem and the sole issue of the Italian section of the Situationist International, since The Society of the Spectacle was largely unknown or else misunderstood).6
Invariance arose from a dissident group that split from the French section of the International Communist Party (Il Programma Comunista), due to the dissidents’ demand that theory be privileged over the role of the party, accusing the latter of having succumbed to the activism typical of a Trotskyist sect (a charge that was actually hardly merited).
Basically, Invariance challenged the usefulness of a party organized around a mass of trade union activities, etc., opposing the “historical party” to the formal organization of militants. That is, the Marxist program and theory taken as a whole, which only in revolutionary periods assumes the structure of a militant formation while in counterrevolutionary eras it dissolves in order to avoid succumbing to opportunist degeneration. This was Marx’s attitude when he provoked the dissolution of the First International; and it was also the attitude of Bordiga, who did not reconstruct a real party after the war, but only used the International Communist Party as an instrument to carry on his theoretical work, without ever acquiring a membership card.
Invariance was especially devoted to disseminating the voluminous work of Bordiga, translating it into French. Likewise, it also had a positive approach to the ultraleft current (which had also been stigmatized by Bordiguist ultra-Leninism) and produced an abundance of original texts, especially The Unpublished 6th Chapter and the Economic Works of Karl Marx, written by Jacques Camatte when he was still a party militant, and revised by Bordiga himself.
The adoption of this perspective was undoubtedly contradictory in a current—and above all in a group like Ludd—that had conceived of 1968 as a new beginning, as the opening up of a completely new revolutionary epoch. However, this contradiction did not correspond to the new reality, nor could it coexist with it, so it just evaporated on its own before the disaster occasioned by the decline of the cycle of struggle of 1967-1970 unfolded. All that remained was to discover the crucial importance of theory, which until then had only been vaguely presented. There was an enthusiastic return to Marx and Bordiga, rediscovering the weapons of critique in all their power.
Actually, at the beginning of the seventies our current seemed to fit into the model of the Bordiguist party: that tiny sect that, during the fifties—when it was persecuted by Stalinism—had upheld dissident positions (such as the famous section of Asti, which acted as strikebreakers during the strikes organized by the Stalinists). As the struggle went into decline, the horizon was occupied by boisterous Maoist groups that constantly expelled the radical communists from the assemblies.
The “historic party” of Marx had nothing to do with the bureaucratic and terrorist structure of the Bolsheviks. It therefore acquired among us the esoteric enchantment that contrasted with our real poverty. It was a party that could be reduced to a couple of bookshelves in a library, a post office box, or to the correspondence and encounters between two or three friends. But at the same time it was an entity that, because it was disincarnate, transcended the limits of time and space, uniting generations and continents in the immutability7 of the communist program. The latter, of course, had been established once and for all by means of a process of historical illumination—similar to that of the great prophets of the revealed religions—which, between 1844 (the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts) and 1848 (revolution) had forged a perspective that was applicable to all the subsequent periods of struggle. It is a fact that our contact with Invariance stimulated our interest in the very rich vein of Bordiga’s works and in the study of the works of Marx; so that isolation ceased to be considered as a problem and began to be valued, and every form of activism was viewed as an impediment to theoretical activity. Our interests were thus dominated by pamphlets, journals and mimeograph machines.
The logical schema was as follows: the international proletarian movement had reappeared on the historical scene between 1965 and 1970. While the revolutionary epicenter had shifted towards the United States, the wave of disturbances that had shaken Europe finally reached the East. This period had begun to come to a close in 1971, when a stage of retreat began in which the problem no longer consisted in active intervention, but in avoiding being reabsorbed by a reality that was completely dominated by capital. During this retreat what was required was intense theoretical activity, the assimilation of the works of Bordiga and Marx, the German Revolution, the ultraleft current and the Frankfurt School … materials that had to be used for the purpose of moving towards the affirmation of communism. Communism, for its part, had to be revealed on the basis of the recent movements and the theories that best described those movements (besides the interest aroused by the Situationist International, the American social movement led to the rediscovery of Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse8 ).
This led us to definitively reject the politics with which we had been attempting to settle accounts: none of the extremist or militarist variants that were then current had the least interest for us. In fact, we even accused the movement of Autonomia Operaia of having adapted to the requirements of a narrow and stifling situation. Only the resumption of the movement could lead to the rejuvenation of the problems in a dynamic sense and in their real dimension. In the meantime, what was necessary was to use the critique to fortify the subjectivity threatened by capital, as well as the spheres of personal life that total capital had hijacked in order to seize possession of individuals. With regard to the prospect of the next resurgence of revolution, it was necessary to be prepared, wielding the theoretical weapons not just of negativity, but also of the affirmation and the theoretical basis of communism.
The concrete possibility that this offered us was that of the enormous enrichment of our weapons with the contributions of the Marxian and Bordiguist traditions. However, what happened instead was that on the one hand the immediatist tendency became stuck in its utopia, creating Comontism; while, on the other hand, Cesarano intensified his theoretical efforts, which he assumed on his own account, experiencing in his theoretical-practical journey the contradictions of the entire current.
10.1 The Dissolution of Ludd and the Revival of Immediatism
If the retreat presupposed a theoretical intensification and a more or less fruitful immersion in study, according to the Bordiguist-Invariance model, it also led to the destruction of the groups that, like Ludd, identified with the new contents of the movement and thus appropriated their force.
The heterogeneous nature of Ludd caused its dissolution to be spontaneous and almost painless. The problem of how to resist a counterrevolutionary wave had not yet been posed. There was no attempt to create a permanent organization. In fact, the dissolution of the group could be seen as a positive fact since it prevented its ideological recuperation and re-absorption by capital.
However, the disappearance of Ludd was not enough to liquidate the remains of immediatism, which in fact continued have an influence on subsequent theoretical production.
It often happened that genuine revolutionaries (unlike the sectarian followers of an ideology that helped them to find meaning and purpose) oscillated between an awareness of the oppressive superiority of capital and the apparent weakness of their own antagonist existence, barely recognizing themselves in the real movement that socially embodied their perspective, and thus they had a tendency not to take that movement seriously.
The “spontaneous” dissolution of a group is always the product of a weakness that tends to be rapidly forgotten by the revolutionaries, due to their uncertainty regarding the real scope of the projects in which they participated, and an unconscious sense of modesty. In the seventies this tendency was accentuated by the anxiety of shifting to a higher, or in any event, more coherent sphere of activity, an anxiety based on the illusion that individuals would thereby be not only less impeded, but also more potentiated in their search for radicality (of course, in that time this option was validated by a social environment that was much more interesting and fruitful for a social explorer and adventurer than the present one).
Perhaps this anxiety was entirely justified, and in fact it was proof of a profound demand for radicality, the fact that a group, in a period of retreat, dissolved in order to avoid succumbing to a ritual repetition of its own gestures, which would have presupposed the perpetuation of the group as an end in itself, independent of the activity of its members, who would thus have become militants. There are many examples of the misery of these groups that stubbornly persist in proselytizing with the hope of recruiting militants who would keep the flame of the organization burning.
This does not mean, however, that the split or dispersion of a group, even one that is numerically insignificant—which was not the case with Ludd—would not be extremely important for subsequent events, and therefore should not be seriously confronted.
The history of Ludd is exemplary because it demonstrates the revolutionary essence of the group, which had nothing to gain by perpetuating itself as an “independent” enterprise, at a moment when neither the immediate movement nor the theoretical tension merited keeping it alive. But at the same time this history demonstrates the superficiality that characterized the way the group “gave up”.
From the point of view of the revolutionary movement, breaks, splits, and dissolutions should fulfill a function of enrichment, of clarification for others. This is why, when an experience comes to an end it is fundamental to settle accounts with it, and this must be done in a conscious and explicit way. Otherwise there will be confused remains that will continue to produce undesired effects.
In the case of Ludd, the unresolved remnants would have highly damaging consequences.
Afterwards, disillusionment and resentment, which were felt even years later, gave way to the pretension of being able to replace the working class. This tendency was “armed” immediatism, which assumed diverse forms in the movement of the seventies and in the multiform Autonomia Operaia, and which assumed its most regressive and catastrophic manifestation in the dramatic experience of Azione Rivoluzionaria.
There was no settling of accounts with the ideology of everyday life, or with the immediatist dogmatism that justified concealed hierarchies and which animated the self-laceration of the weakest militants. Cesarano was clearly aware of this degeneration and produced a very harsh and precise critique. Surprisingly, however, this critique remained in the “private” milieu of those closest to him, his friends. In his writings, Cesarano took it for granted, as if it had been done before. In reality, what he did was to liquidate the problem without having clarified it in its ultimate consequences. Comontism, the presumed heir of that “ideology of everyday life”, carried its immediatism to the paradoxical point of calling a circle of comrades “the human community” (note that Comontism=Gemeinwesen9 ). Although Cesarano often expressed how strange he found the theory, practice and perspective of Comontism, he never engaged in a real fundamental theoretical confrontation that would clarify the question. The “critique of everyday life” had arisen in order to confront an odious inquisitorial order, embodied in a very energetic and concrete organization in which all the human and personal sympathy of the world could be expressed, but it is entirely undeniable that this critique had a regressive theoretical character compared with Ludd.
Frankly, the immediatist legacy of Ludd went beyond the ingenuous and crude expressions of Comontism and its brutal and pompous “ideology of crime”. In general, the ideology of everyday life was still fixed on the entire radical horizon. The rejection of politics, militantism, organizational continuity, and the value of a lasting shared activity, had two derivatives: on the one hand, an exclusive dedication to theory (which in itself does no harm) and on the other the resort to certain modes of action that no longer appeal to the class—or to organized core groups of the class—but to the milieu of psychological and social disintegration (this rejection of organization may now be subjected to critical analysis because it has lost much of its meaning in the absence of hegemonic leftist splinter groups. It might thus seem like an incomprehensible phobia to a present-day revolutionary. Especially because it has an inhibitory effect, because it generates impotence, because it renounces acquired experience by rendering impossible any efficacy and any instruments of communication that can only be forged over time).
Comontism therefore wanted to see the vanguard revolutionary expressions in madness, in delirium, in crime, in the explosions of blind and meaningless violence, or, in the best cases, as the last link with the ideal of collective action, in the revolts of the black ghettoes in the United States; and even in the fascistic, basically patronage-based revolts of the cities of southern Italy (Reggio Calabria, Caserta).
“The ‘wild outbreak’ [the term corresponds to a hierarchy of knowledge; to the position of the person who, in fact, knows] of the outcast against alienation, of passion against suffering, where the modern proletariat goes on the offensive, in the ghettoes which are now off-limits to the isolated bourgeoisie in New York and Detroit—just as in Reggio Calabria, Caserta and the Barrio Latino, where hatred breaks out for ‘futile reasons’—displays the features of the struggle for life against the ‘spread’ of necrosis; a struggle that, because it can, must be expressed. They are the features, in fact ferocious, of the return to the primal forest, of primitive violence […] the wild conquest by night of the spaces which in the day are usurped by the masters and their slaves, the bourgeoisie do not venture beyond those same streets where the offices of their representatives rise which, in that space-time reconquered from the enemy, no longer represent them. Even during the day, the savage reappears in desperate and sudden attacks, pointing their machine guns at the cages of the bank tellers, hidden from the electronic eye of the police TV” (Critica dell’utopia capitale).10
With regard to this point it is very important to understand the “turn” taken by the radical current at the beginning of the seventies, which led to its subsequent sterility. This is fundamental especially if one wants to understand the Critica dell’utopia capitale, whose purpose was to contribute a theoretical solution at this crucial historical juncture.
In Cesarano’s most important theoretical work one can also discover the inspirations for this immediatism: the revolts of the black ghettoes, the expressions of arbitrary violence, criminal gangs, the subjective crisis unleashed by various degrees of neurosis and madness that no repressive structure and no therapy can continue to contain, all of this was interpreted in its immediacy as so many manifestations of the communist movement, of the revolutionary praxis that abolishes the current state of affairs.
Cesarano incorporated these acts of revolt into a general theoretical discourse whose purpose was to prove the “biological” character of the revolution, its origin in the living body of the human species, which simultaneously attacks the inorganic universe, the personal-ego and the language produced by the ruling “rationality”.
“Every time a ‘crazy’ man launches a violent protest against the prison in which he is held and declares that what exists does not exist or is false, the imagination is at work. This ‘every time’ is becoming ‘always’. In the increasing rates of crime, neurosis and insanity, in the increasingly more frequent collective explosions of ‘unmotivated’ rage, in insubordination, in alienation, in the insidious absenteeism, we see an intermediate stage on the road that the imagination is taking towards the definitive overthrow of reality as the organization of the unreal, and towards the conquest of an organic totality that will put an end to the inorganic capitalist utopia, to prehistory, and allow the commencement of history as an equilibrium of existence and being, the finally attained correspondence between the will to live and life”.11
This apologetic for moments of social and psychological disintegration, and for ad hoc outbursts of deleterious vitality, comes from his early period: it characterized the period of the dissolution of Ludd and the early stages of Comontism. It was part of an effort to include all those forms of spontaneous rebellion within the “real movement”, as replacements for the proletariat that was during that period forced to retreat to particular conflicts within the factory, or towards domestic problems.
To get a better understanding of this perspective we have to return to Invariance, which during that period was the principle source of inspiration for the entire spectrum of Italian radical communism, although often with varying effects. In fact, this journal was published at the same time that Bordiga’s texts were being re-published, as well as Marx’s works in their original versions, texts that exercised a powerful influence on our current, and on Cesarano in particular.
Beginning with its second series, Invariance began to impress a forced march on Marxist theory, which led it—while paradoxically preserving its name, Invariance12 --to various 180-degree reversals with respect to certain basic Marxist positions. Thus, in 1977—a crucial date when revolutionary theory produced numerous mosche cocchiere13 --it would abandon the revolution-counterrevolution problematic.
In the Critica dell’utopia capitale, we find contents that are typical of Invariance.
First of all, the concept of “universal class”: the proletarian condition tends to become generalized, the new middle classes (today often denominated as the “tertiary sector”) tend to live in a condition of exploitation and alienation that is similar to that of the industrial proletariat. During the course of a revolutionary crisis, the proletariat thus has the possibility of deploying the vast majority of humanity on the battlefield, unified as the “universal class”.14 This concept is an aspect of Cesarano’s idea of the biological revolution, in which all class distinctions become obsolete, since now the “utopia of capital” is opposed to the totality of the human species.
Another such notion consists in viewing the disturbances in the American metropolises as the concrete affirmation of communism. Such an idea was amplified by the idea of a “transfigured” revolution, which Cesarano defined solely by its destructive and capital-negating work, and which found its continuity in arbitrary violence, even in its most sporadic and individual manifestations.
“While the curtain falls on the spectacle of ideological war, which has gone beyond its limits, the real war, as Marcuse says, is everywhere and all the time, but everywhere and all the time for each person, without any constraining frontiers, and inseparable from the process of production. This war is the practical critique that is expressed, and nothing more. The perspective of the accommodation of politics and sociology attributes to critique their disguises and spare clothes every time they confront—but they always confront it—the need to exorcize it. The criminal, the gang, the drug addicts, the excluded, the sectarians of alienated religions and ideologies, the misfits, the ‘youth’, the sub-proletarians, the ‘neurotics’, the mentally ill (!): the original enemy, the antichrist, those who by their mere existence deny as a whole too many things so that it is impossible not to see that, simply, they are everyone. The critique is latent in each person.”15
The visible manifestations of the proletariat thus always and exclusively appear as individual manifestations of the crisis of the ego-persona, or else as undifferentiated and blind outbursts. The problem of identifying them historically with a sector of the class in struggle or with a set of principles, much less with a collective and coherent practice, is not posed. The concept of communism disappears, even in the notion of the “naturalizing organic totality”,16 by becoming more extensive but also more abstract and more generic. This is why his work runs the risk of being read as a mere desperate critique, which derives its undeniable force only from pain and madness.
In any event, it is not possible to understand Cesarano’s work if it is not considered as the product of the entire historical current of which it forms a part and of that current’s theoretical stagnation, which in turn reflected precisely the practical dead end in which the radical communists found themselves once the cycle of struggles of 1967-1970 came to an end. Situated in a dead zone, the radical current attempted to replace the generalized action and offensive of the proletariat, which was on the decline, with certain “new” expressions that could not be recuperated by the capitalist apparatus. Hence the spread of certain “juvenile” values that were rapidly co-opted by the culture industry, to the point of transforming sexual liberation, communitarianism, the critique of the family, psychedelic drugs and rock music into just so many new commodities.17
Cesarano’s achievement consists in having produced a powerful and unitary synthesis of the theory of an entire epoch, and of having created a complex critical machinery; his weakness consists in having reproduced the contradictions that undermined the movement that he was depicting. He was personally deeply involved in the general crisis. By burning all the bridges that he crossed, he ended up also abandoning the collective point of view that turned out to be so necessary at that time. By referring the solution of present-day problems to a successful future movement—even though the Critica dell’utopia capitale was the fruit of these problems and reflected them—Cesarano failed to propose explicitly and openly how to get through a period of decline.
The abstraction of some of Cesarano’s conclusions consequently dates back to the crisis of the radical communists that resulted from their confrontation with the new stage of reflux. However, in the profundity and the richness of his theoretical production we can discover the necessary elements to explain and demystify the collapse of the entire current, in the face of the possibility and the evidence of a new cycle of struggles.
10.2 Two opposed points of view on organization.
In 1971 Comontism took shape and the group that had formed based on the positions of Invariance dissolved. It must be mentioned that both tendencies had diametrically opposed attitudes towards the “question of organization”. One of these attitudes was in fact that of Cesarano and a large part of the current. The idea of Comontism instead whimsically identified its own members (largely veterans of the similar Organizzazione Consigliare di Torino18 ) with the historical party of the proletariat, or, even better, with the “human community”. On this basis, it created an organization with branches in several Italian cities (see Maelström, No. 2), which erased any distinction between theoretical and practical activity, between public life and private life, between individual and organization. Comontism thus attempted to breathe life into a concrete communism, characterized by:
1. The collectivization of all resources for survival;
2. A “total” way of living together;
3. The constant practice of the “critique of everyday life” in order not to yield to the pressure imposed by society in the form of family, social milieu, legal relations, etc.
The immediatist illusion of the group caused it to overlook one fundamental fact: that between capitalism—that is, between personal relations dominated by valorization—and communism, there is a revolution that, according to Marx, serves among other things to “get rid of all the old shit”. For Comontism the Gemeinwesen had to be put into practice here and now: it was all about the passage to communism of twenty or thirty persons, communizing all relations all at once: this idea would lead inevitably and immediately to the production of an ideology: immediatism was rapidly followed by the elaboration of a whole set of “theoretical” corollaries.
In retrospect, we have to sympathize with Comontism: it was a group of courageous individuals who always stayed at their posts at the revolutionary front, bravely confronting harsh repression and fighting against various Maoist-workerist splinter groups that had specialized military structures crafted to ensure that the assemblies and demonstrations were conducted in a way that was acceptable to their father-master PCI (with the sole exception—besides, naturally, the Bordiguist groups that had already experienced the armed repression of the “extraparliamentary” Stalinists—of Potere Operaio, a group devoted to guerrilla tactics which, although it did not publicly defend the revolutionaries, was always opposed to their persecution). The provocative and ominous attitude of Comontism (which gloried in a display of macabre humor on December 12, 1972, on the occasion of the destruction of the Banca de Agricultura at the Piazza Fontana in Milan19 ) was compelled to confront, among other things, the systematic calumnies of the left which had for several years been proclaiming that “situationists=fascists”. It is indisputable, however, that Comontism was a revolutionary group, which the Cronaca di un ballo mascherato20 justly cited as part of the radical communist current. Not in vain did it claim to have remained on the terrain of revolutionary practice, when so many other former Luddites had accepted the separation between the “militant” public life and private life, which soon led them to passive nihilism and, in many cases, to renounce the revolutionary option in favor of worldly success or simply a tranquil life.
On the other hand, one cannot avoid criticizing the retreat of Comontism with respect to the level attained by Ludd. Comontist immediatism is nothing but a substitutionism of the proletariat carried to its logical extreme. From this point of view, Comontism was an authentic model of ideology, based on an undeclared but easily recognizable hierarchy, which subjected its recruits to initiation tests and examinations of their radicality. The most disastrous aspect of Ludd, which we shall discuss in connection with Cesarano’s critique, became a systematically and relentlessly applied ideology. Among its ideological conclusions we find: the apology for crime (the only respected and recognized way to survive); the praise, not publicly proclaimed, but a constant feature within the group, for hard drugs as an instrument of destructuring and liberation from family and repressive relations; the sectarian attitude of superiority displayed towards every element external to the organization; the group’s hostility to the hard working, sheep-like proletariat, which was viewed as just as culpable as everyone else who was not part of the organization. All of this turned Comontism into a gang at war with all of humanity, and an uncritical follower of the criminal model. This is what we mean by “ideology”: the theorization of this practical attitude in fact prevented any critical procedure from assuming a material basis: they were dogmas embedded in the extremely coercive experience of the members of the group. This form of immediatism was certainly one of the reasons that prevented Cesarano from drawing practical conclusions, and which led him to lose himself in sterile abstractions.
However, behind this and other dead ends of Cesarano we find certain positions that are diametrically opposed to those of Comontism: the positions of Invariance.
Invariance had “resolved” the problem of organization by studying the measures employed by Marx to prevent the party from succumbing to bourgeois reformism during the period of counterrevolutionary retreat. This analysis was extremely partial, since it completely ignored all of Marx’s activity that was devoted to building the communist party, and distorted the revolutionary tradition by avoiding a critical examination of the purely political activity of Marx taken as a whole. This attitude was expressed in a text from 1969, published three years later by Invariance under the title, “On Organization”21 , signed by Camatte-Collu, which can be summarized as follows:
1. Under the real domination of capital every organization tends to be transformed into a Mafia or a sect;
2. Invariance avoided this danger by dissolving the embryonic group that had begun to form around the journal;
3. All organized groups are excluded a priori, because of the risk that they will be transformed into Mafias;
4. Relations between revolutionaries are only useful at the highest level of theory, which each individual can attain in a personal and independent way, or otherwise fall prey to followerism.
According to Camatte and Collu, the danger of individualism was of no account because the “production of revolutionaries” was already underway—in 1972: the extension of the revolutionary process was such that a network of interpersonal contacts at the “highest” level of theory was already guaranteed and was even evident. Thus, Camatte and Collu expressed in the clearest way an error that was typical of the entire current and of Cesarano himself. In reality, a pre-revolutionary stage on an international level was not opening up in 1972 (despite the fact that the movement would continue to resist, although only in Italy), nor was an inexorable production of revolutionaries imminent (even Camatte and Collu would desert). Therefore, the disregard of individualism was nothing but an illusion. There was nothing glorious about dissolving the small group that was forming around the journal. This did nothing but accelerate what was already taking place: the dispersion of the sparse revolutionary forces that remained from 1968, forces which would not experience a resurgence (in France there were no more large-scale social uprisings, and in Italy the revolutionary current faced 1977 so weakened by individualism that it was incapable of undertaking any relevant interventions). In fact, individualism favored the dissolution of the revolutionary perspective: either because life in isolation produced a feeling of reduced self-esteem—which could only be escaped by comparing oneself with one’s peers—which prevented one from perceiving the movement and which generated discouragement and depression, the loss of one’s defenses against the invasion from “outside” and surrender to dominant tendencies; or because it disguised personalism and elitism, and served to enable one to get rid of those uncomfortable relations that could stand in the way of an opportunist reinsertion into bourgeois ideology. During the seventies and eighties the work of the liquidation of the organizational remnants (which were by then fragile and informal) and the unjustified fear of succumbing to politics, “workerism” or leftism, contributed the impulse to jump to the “other side of the barricade” for those exponents of the “elite” who had transformed theory into a fetish and who were mistrustful of the alleged danger of followerism (a danger that was actually imaginary and non-existent: in Italy no group or personality exercised any attraction or obtained passive followers such as the Situationist International had on the other side of the Alps. In France, in any event, Invariance never did so).
We have been analyzing two views regarding organization that were typical of the seventies, which we can reject without any remorse, and above all without falling prey to any of the mystifications offered by the youngest elements.
The first view, that of Comontism, is the model of the criminal gang-historical party-human community. Although respectable from a human point of view (like its current epigone, the French group, Os Cangaceiros), and although it was often interesting for the practical-organizational-lifestyle solutions that it proposed (the revolutionaries must live “as if” communism was already a fact and could thus face the terrible struggle for survival together, which was twice as hard for them), its vision was born from resentment: the proletariat is not revolutionary, so “we” (the tiny groups) are the proletariat; we are the now-realized human community. This led them to a dogmatic and ideological evaluation of their own sectarian activity and offered the most disastrous answers: the terroristic self-criticism imposed on every gesture and every word; the fetishism of coherence; the lurking possibility of political decline, caused above all by the spell cast by action, which led them to become a mere gang of loud-mouthed thugs. All of this was based on the totemic-fetishistic blackmail of “practice”, in the ideological scorn for theory and lucid action.
The other, “invariantist”, view, which would later spread over a large part of the radical current, is the model of the circle of relations among “theoreticians”. In this case, the enormous totem-fetish of theory conceals the unilateral nature of relations limited to a tiny elite of “critics”.
Such an attitude, now that the illusions regarding a rapid and abundant “production of revolutionaries” have dissipated, amounts in reality to pure and simple individualism.
Instead, there is nothing left to do but to adjust to the fact that the revolutionaries are now isolated. To increase their current powerlessness by taking a position against organization does not make any sense. The alternative of continuing to pursue this option, in an environment of the anxious atomization of revolutionaries, insisting on the anti-Mafia phobia and on the exclusivity of relations between a handful of the elect (if one can find any such elect) at the highest level (higher than what?) of theory, is not very attractive.
Although it is now clear that the resurgence of activism and militancy rapidly leads back to politics, it is also clear that the fetish of theory separated from collective efficacy and, if possible, organized practice, offers no way out. Communist principles, united with a critical theory animated by its contrast with the theory of the previous two decades and with the principle results of the recent past—that is: a revolution of and for life, a questioning of the limits of the ego and of personal identity (which in the work of Cesarano are denounced vehemently and comprehensively), the experience of a revolution in the revolution—are the only antidotes against the Mafioso degeneration, which cannot be escaped by way of self-valorizing isolation, and much less by the original and personal road of an alleged creativity.
It is obvious that in 1970 there was no danger posed by the possibility that a militant-activist group associated with Invariance or a core group of “theoreticians” would be formed. In fact, the danger was just the reverse: disintegration and the neglect of the most important questions that should have been addressed:
1. The reformulation of the contribution of the historical ultraleft (Bordiga and the most consistent sector of the German revolution, which were decisive for the world revolution);
2. Draw up a balance sheet of the new contents contributed by the sixties;
3. The need to create a network of relations capable of enduring and prepared to reinitiate the revolutionary possibilities that were presented during the seventies.
According to Camatte and Collu the “production of revolutionaries” would magically resolve all problems, when what actually took place immediately thereafter was the dispersion of the revolutionaries, and it became evident that they were incapable of taking advantage of the opportunity that would be once again, and only in Italy, be presented.
In the following years the question of nihilism arose, still posed in terms that were upside down with respect to reality: in reality the expressions of nihilism were the abandonment of the revolutionary tradition, the end of the search for communist relations among subversives, the denial of the need to become an effective community, and the underestimation of the need to avoid being dragged down by the counterrevolution.
Comontism was a caricature of relations between revolutionaries, with its illusion that all problems could be magically resolved by the right ideology, and its pretension of being the embodiment of the theory of the sixties, now complete, which only had to be applied in practice without any delay.
Although it was aberrant and unsustainable on the theoretical plane, this simplification was based on a profoundly correct demand: theory cannot be a separate and specialized activity, it is an integral part of the everyday coherence of revolutionaries and the need to change reality in its entirety, to have an impact on society and on history.
Comontism had a doubly counterproductive result:
1. Because it created a gang that proclaimed itself to be the enemy of society and the proletariat, preventing any possibility of forming a pole of regroupment and of having an effect on society;
2. Because it was easily recuperable by the most typical ideology of the seventies: that which consisted in justifying—as Toni Negri did—the groups produced by social disintegration, instead of subjecting them to a radical critique. This made Comontism incapable of providing any perspective to a sector, one that was much more coherent in 1977, of young people who broke with the hierarchical and instrumental armed practice of Autonomia Organizatta and who instead wanted to act for themselves, courageously but with impoverished and confused ideas.
Comontism, however, was right to reject the elitism of the few who act “at the highest level of theory”. Such elitism could only lead to the creation of relations rooted solely on the intellectual plane.
Cesarano was the only person who acted on the highest level, producing a clear and explicit theory, completely anti-esoteric, vainly trying to provide a human solution to this pseudo-intellectual milieu, characterized by its absolute fragility and by its tremendous incoherence (except for Piero Coppo and Joe Fallisi, the only other people among his comrades who preserved a revolutionary coherence, without nourishing any pretenses to superiority derived from the possession of theory).
- 1CUB: Unitary Base Committee, an institution formed in the Pirelli de Bicocca auto plant in Milan, in 1968. [Spanish Translator’s note].
- 2“In 1965, Pierre Guillaume, a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie and then of Pouvoir Ouvrier, founded the bookstore, La Vieille Taupe, on Rue Fossés-Saint-Jacques in Paris. This bookstore served as a point for discussion and activity related to the Situationist International—which for a certain period of time maintained relations with La Vieille Taupe—as well as the Italian Left, which was then known almost exclusively through the filter of the International Communist Party (Programme Communiste). Pierre Guillaume took part, for example, in the publication of the English edition of the S.I. text on the Watts Riots. […] From its inception, the bookstore refused to adopt any doctrinal label. It was not the headquarters of Pouvoir Ouvrier (since Guillaume was not a member), nor was it that group’s bookstore. During a period when it was hard to obtain essential revolutionary texts, which were scarce on the ‘market’, La Vieille Taupe sought to make them available. The mere fact that it featured texts by Marx, Bakunin, the S.I., Programme Communiste, and the ultraleft, had a clear political and theoretical impact in 1965. In its own way, La Vieille Taupe contributed to the indispensable theoretical synthesis of that era. It overcame sectarianism without collecting “‘everything to the left of the Communist Party’. (…)
“In 1967, the bookstore acquired the voluminous surplus stock of Costes, the only publisher of Marx’s works in pre-war France, when the French Communist Party was more interested in publishing Thorez and Stalin. In early 1968, when Éditions Sociales had almost ceased operation, the only place you could get a copy of Capital was La Vieille Taupe. The bookstore sold the remainder copies of Socialisme ou Barbarisme, but also Cahiers Spartacus, which had published various representative texts of the workers movement after the war, from its extreme left to its extreme right. Thousands of copies of Rosa Luxemburg, Prudhommeaux … which had been in storage for years in a warehouse of the fifth district, were once again offered to the public. La Vieille Taupe did not deny the need for coherence. Instead, it believed that coherence could not be achieved on the basis of just one of the radical currents (all of which were focused on a single view) of that time, nor by trying to make contact with the workers (like the ICO), nor by studying the forms assumed by modern capitalism (as Souyri advocated, who kept his distance from the polemics that arose from the split in Pouvoir Ouvrier), but by way of the theoretical appropriation of the left communist current (and therefore also of the historical terrain on which that current had arisen) and of the Situationist International, and by way of reflection on communism and particularly on the contribution made by Marx.
“This small heterogeneous group that broke from Pouvoir Ouvrier carried out little or no ‘publicity’ during the months that followed May 1968. It basically organized collective readings of Capital and began to assimilate the theoretical contributions of the various components of the communist left, as well as of the Situationist International. La Vieille Taupe was not a group: it was instead a steppingstone for various tendencies, in which anti-Leninism was predominant and where the appearance of Invariance opened up a new field for discussion” (“Le Roman des nos origins”, in La Banquise, Paris, No. 2, 1984).
- 3The Movemento Studentesco (M.S.) was a student organization of the extraparliamentary left, which in the seventies spread from the state university of Milan to the rest of Italy. It was at first linked to the group, Lotta Continua. The notoriety attained in this group at the time by its leaders, Mario Capanna and Salvatore Toscano, allowed the latter to enjoy a long and successful career as politicians and writers. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 4On December 12, 1969, a powerful bomb destroyed the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura at the Piazza Fontana in Milan, killing 17 people and wounding 88. On that same day various other bombs were detonated in other cities in Italy. As is now known, these attacks were the work of secret agencies of the Italian State linked to NATO. Piazza Fontana was the beginning of the “strategy of tension”, which included more than a thousand attacks in Italy during the seventies, and which were used by the State in order to more effectively manage public terror and the persecution of the revolutionaries. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 5On May 4, 1970, a protest ended in tragedy at the State University at Kent, when the Ohio National Guard murdered four students after a demonstration against the war. This was followed by a wave of student protests that paralyzed the American universities. Between May 4 and May 8 there were hundreds of demonstrations, strikes and violent confrontations every day. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 6See Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Zone Books, New York, 1995; Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, Verso Books, New York, 1990; Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life, Aldgate Press, London, 1983.
- 7This time, for the purpose of clarifying a recurrent term, we have translated the term “invariance” used in the original text by the term “immutability”. This idea, which was the fundamental pillar of the theoretical work of the Italian communist left, refers to the immutability or invariance of the communist program, as the latter was elaborated and theoretically expressed during the revolutionary era that corresponded with the life of Karl Marx. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 8Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: the Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, Wesleyan University Press, 1985; Love’s Body, University of California Press, 1990. As for Marcuse, we read An Essay on Liberation and Counterrevolution and Revolt.
- 9Gemeinwesen is the German term that defines the “collective” and integral “existence” of man as a member of his species. This generic social existence is the negation of man produced by and for bourgeois society: the man who is internally shattered and alienated from his own activity, from the other members of his species and from the material world that they create. This idea and its profound implications are elaborated in Marx’s 1844 Manuscripts and in various other texts of the communist tradition. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 10Giorgio Cesarano, Critica…, op. cit., pp. 30-31.
- 11Giorgio Cesarano, Critica…, op. cit., p. 52.
- 12See Note 25 [Spanish Translator’s Note].
- 13Mosche cocchiere: untranslatable expression used to describe those people who concede great importance to themselves and take pride in deeds (perhaps extraordinary exploits), in which they had minimal, irrelevant or no participation. [Note of the Spanish Translator].
- 14[Cite Transizione] (sic).
- 15Giorgio Cesarano, Critica…, op. cit., pp. 48-49.
- 16Spinoza conceived of nature as “naturalizing”, that is, as the free cause of itself and conceived by itself; granted the attributes that express an eternal and infinite essence, that is, the essence of God. This notion, united with the Hegelian concept of the organic totality led certain theoretical formulations to conceive of the realization of the Gemeinwesen, of communism, as the inexorable result of the self-sufficient development of the totality. Thus, the emphasis shifted from the historical analysis of the class struggle towards the recognition of the totality that acts and is expressed in every particular phenomenon of the present. [Note of the Spanish Translator]
- 17On this aspect, see Note 14 [Note of the Spanish Translator].
- 18Councilist Organization of Turin. [Note of the Spanish Translator].
- 19On the significance of this date, see Note 22 [Note of the Spanish Translator].
- 20Cronaca di un ballo mascherato, Giorgio Cesarano, Piero Coppo and Joe Fallisi, Ed. Varani, Milan, 1983. Spanish translation, Crónica de un baile de mascaras, included in the collection, Un terrorismo en busca de dos autores. Documentos de la revolución en Italia, Likiniano Elkartea, Bilbao, 1999 [Note by the Spanish Translator].
- 21“On Organization”, J. Camatte and G. Collu. English translation online at: http://libcom.org/library/on-organisation-jacques-camatte