"Strike one to educate one hundred"
In general it is our internationalist duty to spread the lessons of all revolutionary movements, to strengthen ourselves as we defeat the isolation that imperialism strains to impose on all of us. Specifically, the struggles of the european metropolis, which take place in the urban-technological society, have special meaning for us. It is not just in Vietnam, Guinea-Bissau, and El Salvador that one finds the front-lines of battle.
The experience of forming the Red Brigades is not in our opinion a blueprint or an idealized model to be imitated. Situations within the u.s. Empire, within both oppressor and oppressed nations, differ greatly from the Italy of the 1960s-1970s. Yet the problems, pressures, errors and questions they faced in their formative stage were to some degree true here as well. The questions around beginning the process of revolutionary organization are important, since we, like our Italian comrades know that: '"To fight, to be defeated, to fight again, to be defeated again, to fight anew until final victory' is the law of history."
What is essential now is that the Italian experience deepens and re-states questions that we must answer. Not facile answers but a more profound question.
In setting off on the still-unknown path of urban guerrilla warfare, the Red Brigades rejected the non-materialist conception of armed struggle as a voluntary tactic. That is, that armed struggle is supposedly something only done when the movement decides that it is ready to try it. The founding members of the Red Brigades pointed out that in Italy a truly mass revolutionary sentiment was forming, which the State had decided to militarily wipe out. So violent confrontation would take place whether or not the movement was ready or even willing. Nor was the timing completely up to the movement. The only choices were to give up, to suicidally pretend that violent repression wasn't happening, or to leap to the higher stage of revolutionary armed struggle, however hard that leap.
This study begins with two background chapters. The first gives a brief factual overview of Italian society and its political situation in the years being discussed. The second chapter tells the general history of the New Left, from 1960 to the coming together in 1969 of what would become the Red Brigades.
We have no secret sources of information. This study is completely based on publicly available documents, Italian newspaper and magazine accounts, books, and the Italian movement press. We are indebted to the former Information-Documentation Section of Red Aid, whose diligent work made this book possible.
1. Background: ItalyIn terms of geography, Italy is a long, boot-shaped peninsula that juts out of Southern Europe some 500 miles into the Mediterranean Sea. In area this peninsula is roughly the size of Georgia and Florida combined. And to the West and South respectively, the two large islands of Sardinia and Sicily (each the area of Vermont) extend Italy even further out into the Mediterranean. While its Northern border anchors Italy to France, the Swiss Alps, Austria and Yugoslavia, on its other three sides Italy is bordered by sea. There is less than 100 miles between Sicily and Tunisia, on the North African coast. So Italy is almost a bridge between Western Europe and the Arab world.
The Italian nation is sharply divided regionally between North and South. Northern Italy is completely European—urbanized, highly industrial, relatively prosperous, consumeristic. The way of life in such cosmopolitan cities as Turin or Milan differs only in details from that of Hamburg, Paris or London. By contrast, the South seems almost like the Third World. The saying that Southern Italy is closer to Africa than it is to Europe is meant as a social comment. Southern Italy has a hot, sunny, Mediterranean climate. There is little industrial development. Traditional peasant agriculture and fishing play a large role in the economy. Poverty and unemployment are widespread. In Naples, the major city of the South, there is 40% unemployment. Smuggling and other Mafia activities comprise the largest single economic sector in that city of 1.1 million people.
The per capita income in Sicily and Reggio Calabria, the two poorest South Italian provinces, is on a level with that of Greece, Puerto Rico or Venezuela, and is roughly one-third less than per capita income in Northern Italy.* Not surprisingly, the South's main export has always been emigrant workers, who historically made up the bottom of the industrial and service workforce in the North; the cleaning women, factory assemblers, sanitation men and construction laborers.
Italy is the weakest of the major imperialist nations. In the colonial era it was almost completely left out as Italy was itself dominated by other Powers, and until very late—1861—did not have a national government. Italian capitalism attempted to take over near-by Tunisia in the 1860s-1870s, but lost out to French colonialism. The Italian army which invaded Ethiopia in 1896 was smashed, with Italy having to pay reparations to Ethiopia for the return of its captured soldiers. Italy began colonizing the Somalia coast in 1885, gradually expanding inland until it had taken all of Somalia by 1927. In 1912, Italy seized Libya from the dying Turkish Empire. Despite killing half the population, Italy was never able to stamp out Libyan guerrillas. Albania was captured in 1939, at the start of World War II. This meager colonial empire—Albania, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia—was all lost by Italy in the course of the War (1939-1945).
Italy's weakness is manifested in uneven economic development. Although Italy is Europe's second-largest steel producer and FIAT is Europe's second largest auto corporation, the state had to assume the main role of industrial development due to the weakness of the Italian bourgeoisie. Italy's largest industrial corporation, IRI, and the major petroleum comporation, ENI, are both government-owned. Main industries are textiles, steel, auto, shoes, machinery and chemicals. Italy's main exports to the u.s. empire are shoes, textiles and foodstuffs (olive oil, etc.). In important capitalist sectors such as finance or advanced electronics, Italy plays only a minor role. While there is considerable natural gas in the North, petroleum must come from the Arab nations. Italy has historic ties to Libya, and is Libya's biggest trading partner (taking 24% of Libyan exports, mostly oil, and sending 30% of Libyan imports).
The Americanization or Coca-Colonization of Italy has been pronounced since the u.s. occupation during World War II. This is especially noticeable in the more prosperous Northern cities, where people have been better able to afford it. As in so many other nations, automobiles, Hollywood movies and rock music are basic elements in the mass consumer culture.
* The per capita income in Southern Italy is still much greater than the per capita income of poorer oppressed nations such as Kenya, Haiti and Sri Lanka
The living standard in Italy is at the low end of the major oppressor nations. In 1980 Italian per capita (i.e. per adult person), income was $6,914 per year, while Japan's was $8,460 and in the u.s. empire it was $11,675. In 1982 the average Italian industrial working class family earned $8,400, while the average family of a white-collar employee earned $10,200, and the average professional or small business family income was $14,300. In compensation, the pace of work is more relaxed in Italy. Long lunch-hours, sometimes 1 1/2 or 2 hours, are not unusual. Italian workers are less convinced that hard work and "drive" will get you anything in the end. They have a saying: "Americans live to work, whereas we Italians work to live."
DISTINCTIVE HISTORY AS A NATIONItaly in both similar to the u.s. oppressor nation and very different. Certainly its political history has been quite different. This is an ancient society with well-defined class lines and little upward social mobility. While the Italian society is old, the Italian national State is relatively new. Italy was first born out of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago. The Roman Republic, originally just one city-state, had conquered all of present-day Italy by 172 B.C.. Eighty years later, after widespread revolts, the republic granted Roman citizenship to the fellow slave-owners of other Italian regions and cities. Roman law, culture and language replaced local dialects and customs. A unified Italian society was created, based on a slave plantation economy and rule from a centralized Roman bureaucracy. After a series of long bloody wars with the powerful North African city-state of Carthage, Rome became the dominant military power in the Western Mediterranean and declared itself an Empire. This Empire came to dominate all of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and India.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy went through a long period of political dismemberment lasting 1400 years. Northern Italy was held by foreign conquerors, first the Visigoths, Franks and other Germanic tribes, and later the French monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and other feudal powers. During the long feudal period Italy was chopped up into many foreign colonies, independent city-states and local principalities. In Central Italy the Catholic Church ruled over its own nation, the Papal States, complete with papal armies and church-owned plantations. The Papal States were once as large as one-seventh of present-day Italy and had a population of 3 million people. The social effects of Italy's long feudal past are still evident in Italy's backward and archaic culture.
Italy became independent again only in 1861, when Garibaldi's nationalist legions unified the country around the banner of King Victor Emmanuel II of the Kingdom of Sardinia, who ruled Piedmont and Sardinia. The Papal States, which were guarded by French troops, held out until 1870. In the South, where rebellious peasants resisted rule from the North, Garibaldi's legions and the Piedmontese army forced reunification in a bloodbath of repression. The new Italian state was a constitutional monarchy, modelled after Great Britain. Although the new state was a bourgeois democracy, with an elected parliamentary government, at first only a small percentage had the franchise: all women, the entire working class and the entire peasantry were excluded from voting. The new State had been created to nourish the weak Italian bourgeoisie, which had been stunted under foreign domination. Even more, Italian capitalism had been left behind as the bigger powers monopolized world trade with their growing colonial empires. The new Italian bourgeois state presented itself to the people as the patriotic opponent of foreign domination. From the beginning, the nationalism of the Italian oppressor nation justified itself by picturing Italy primarily as an underdog, as the victim of France, England, the "u.s.a." and the other Powers.
By the start of World War I, in 1914, the Italian industrial proletariat had grown into a political force. Some 2 million workers had joined the Socialist trade-unions by 1919. Although the capitalists, seeking to end growing strikes and street fighting, had granted all Italian men voting rights in 1912, the workers struggle grew more militant. Italy had entered the first imperialist World War as one of the Allied Powers (England, France, "u.s.a.", Italy, Czarist Russia and Japan) against Germany and Austro-Hungary. The war years, even for a winning oppressor nation, were a time of increased misery, of hunger and brutal overwork in the factories.
At the War's end in 1918 the class struggle broke out in an even sharper way. In 1918 there were many strikes and food riots. In 1919 socialist-led peasants both in the central Italian "red belt" and in the South staged armed land take-overs against the feudal landlords and the Catholic Church. And in 1920 the Northern proletariat struck in a wave of factory take-overs. In the Turin auto plants, where the revolutionary movement had its stronghold, the workers formed factory councils modelled after the Russian Soviets. Not only running the occupied factories was on the agenda, but seizing State power over the North. After two months of public debate and indecision, the Socialist leaders backed down and the Soviets dissolved. The whole revolutionary movement collapsed under the violent counter-attack from the fascist gangs. While workers armed themselves and fought back, they were disorganized and no match for the fascists, who were backed by the army. Thousands were shot. The socialist union confederation lost 90% of its members, shrinking from 2 million to 200,000.
FASCIST PERIODStill the Government in Rome was barely able to govern. Class struggle had moved beyond the framework of bourgeois democracy. Italian capitalism was faced with the question of holding State Power. In those circumstances the ruling class turned to fascism. On October 28, 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III officially asked fascist boss Benito Mussolini to take over the Government. Over the next decade Mussolini became the strongman of Europe. Every fascist movement in Europe, including Adolph Hitler's fledgling Nazis, were to model themselves after him.
His fascist movement initially pretended to be anti-capitalist. It had its class base in the rural petty-bourgeoisie and lumpen (Mussolini himself, who was in turn a poor schoolteacher, a peasant agitatior, a socialist journalist, a police agent, and a pro-war nationalist, was a rural lumpen). Italian fascism also attracted the nationalistic wing of the Italian anarcho-syndicalist and social-democratic movements, whose best-known political leader was Mussolini himself. While the Italian fascists always like to pretend that their 50,000 "Black Shirt" legionnaires had seized Rome by force, the fact is that fascist dictatorship was installed by the army and politicians at the orders of the bourgeoisie.
The Italian people suffered through 20 years of fascist rule, ending with a year and a half of brutal German Nazi occupation and the rigors of becoming a World War II combat zone. After the u.s. Army and the British Army "liberators" captured the city of Naples, for example, many thousands of Neapolitans died from starvation and disease. The U.S.- British occupation refused to provide either food or medical care in the middle of a famine. Some observers at the time estimated that as many as one-third of all the women in Naples had been forced into prostitution for the Allied soldiers.
ARMED STRUGGLE 1943-45The bitter experience of fascism meant, among other things, that two generations of Italian workers prior to 1960 had gone through the experience of armed struggle. There were some 180,000 armed partisan guerrillas in 1943-45, primarily led by Communists. The Italian Communist Party had been crushed in the 1920s by Mussolini, and had never had the leadership for armed struggle. But with the fall of Mussolini in 1943, partisan groups of all kinds began. Many revolutionaries and democrats had gotten out of prison. In those circumstances the PCI leadership finally began to organize guerrilla groups. Protest strikes in Winter 194-4 against the German occupation lasted eight days in Turin, and throughout the North involved close to amillion workers. On April 24, 19~5, in response to a Communist call for "a national uprising," 60,000 workers revolted in Milan and took over the city. Workers councils were formed to run things. In Turin the partisans overcame a stiff German Army rear-guard and also liberated their city. People's courts throughout the North executed 20,000 fascists. But the partisans were disbanded by the revisionist PCI, which was cooperating with the u.s. military occupation. While many revolutionary workers were dismayed and disoriented by this turn, since they had expected to push on to socialist revolution, there was little anti- revisionist leadership.
In Turin's Barriera di Milano, a working class neighborhood, the Italian Communist Party section rebelled against the PCI national leadership. They formed the Red Star Collective, which organized the refusal to surrender arms, called for guerrilla organization, and published a militant newspaper. But Red Star was before its time and became politically isolated. Discovery of communist arms caches and occasional small clashes with police still continued through 1949, Particularly after the 1949 assassina- tion attempt of PCI head Palmiro Togliatti. All across Italy communist militants, fearing a fascist coup, dug out hidden arms, seized factories, built barricades and began patrolling the working class districts.
ARCHAIC & BACKWARD CAPITALISMThis inheritance of feudalism, fascism and class struggle had given Italy a distinctive type of capitalist society by 1960. One very different from the "u.s.a." The Italian State has always been a bureaucratic mess. Hastily imposed, almost overnight, in the 1860s- 1870s by a weak bourgeoisie, it was designed to forcibly hold together different regions. Thus, there are no local-regional "checks and balances" as in the "u.s.a." Italian government is highly centralized at the national level, with different bourgeois interests expressed in overlapping, competing agencies and bureaucracies. There are no local or municipal police; instead there are five different national police forces—ranging from the paramilitary, sub-machine gun toting Carabinieri (always commanded by an Army General) to the forestry police—with deep rivalry between them all. Instead of a C.I.A. there are numerous overlapping military intelligence agencies, who regularly expose each others' scandals to the press. One of the real contradictions within Italian capitalism in the last thirty years has been its unmet need to modernize and reform its own State apparatus without destabilizing everything.
Italian society is strongly influenced by bureaucrat fascism. Much of Italy's legal code and court structure are from the fascist period. Civil liberties are restricted. There is no "right to a speedy trial," for instance. Judges are in no way neutral, not even as a pretense, but are part of the prosecution. Many fascist business leaders, military brass, police officials and government bureaucrats were given amnesty after World War II and re-entered public life. This gave the Italian State a strong right-wing presence. This rightward orientation is strengthened by the feudal-clerical force of the Roman Catholic Church. Italy is a Catholic country; 90% of the people are baptized and 30% attend Catholic mass. The Church is not merely a conservative religious force. In Italy the Church, which once held state power as a feudal society, operates as a secondary government. Under Mussolini the Church became the official state religion, in the fascist-Vatican treaty of 1929. The Vatican was a strong supporter of fascism. Most mass education has been in the hands of the clergy. Extreme authoritarianism, with corporal punishment (whipping and beating) and religious indoctrination typified Italian schools. Catholic indoctrination for all children was compulsory until the reforms of the 1970s.
Italy's bourgeois culture, shaped by fascism and clericalism, has been extremely reactionary. Both government and the Vatican enforced the open oppression of women. Ingrained class distinction and sexism is customary. The 1945 constitution has an equal rights provision that says; "all citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law without distinction as to sex, race, language..." These standard democratic promises were completely overridden by specific constitutional articles, laws and court rulings. The infamous "unity of family" provisions of the constitution banned abortion while giving men legal power over women. The 1942 fascist marriage code was incorporated intact into the new legal system. So husbands had supreme decision-making power over the family, women were legally obliged to follow their husband wherever he moved, and to seek his permission before taking wage employment. As late as 1967 the Italian courts reaffirmed the fascist laws giving the husband the right to control "his" children even after his death - instructions on how to raise them given in his will are binding on his widow.
Violence against women was normal and ever-present. If a man killed "his" wife or daughter it was usually considered only a minor crime or no crime at all. Article 587 of the legal code stated that "whoever causes the death of their spouse, their daughter or their sister upon the act of discovering that illicit carnal relations have taken place and in a state of anger caused by the offense to his or his family's honor is to be punished by imprisonment for 3 to 7 years." Rape and public harassment of women were condoned. Due to the power of the Vatican, divorce was banned until 1970, and abortions were illegal. In the 1960s there were an estimated 2-3 million illegal abortions every year, with Italian feminists estimating that 20-40,000 women died each year from the effects of illegal abortions.
In 1970 women were only 20% of the wage-labor force, concentrated in offices, retail stores, garment manufacturing, textiles, shoes and tobacco processing. One-third of all wage-employed women work in "home industry," most typically in knitting sweaters. Knit clothing was Italy's leading export product by 1967. To raise their profits the capitalists began shutting down older knitting factories during the late 1950s. Women workers were offered the "opportunity" to buy the old machines, and to produce goods on a piece-work contract basis in their kitchens. Of course there were no minimum wages, no security, no health insurance or other benefits—and isolation from other workers. In the South the emigration of male workers to the North and to other countries in search of factory and construction jobs, left much of the migrant farm labor to women, picking grapes and harvesting grain on the large farms. Women's subordinate and oppressed place in imperialism was reflected throughout Italian society, which still defined women as housewives. It was not until 1969-1970 that a women's liberation movement began, as an expression of the new revolutionary developments.
The Church's counter-institution on the Left, the revisionist Italian Communist Party (PCI), had by the 1960s become the center for modernizing and welfare-state currents in Italian society. For twenty years it dominated much of the local government in the Central Italian "red belt" (approximately the region of the old Papal States). In Bologna and other cities in the region the PCI controlled city halls, and ran a giant patronage machine. It ran a large network of agricultural and commercial co-ops that provided marketing and financial services for peasants, shopkeepers and craftsmen in Central and Northern Italy. Its union federation, the Central Confederation of Italian Labor (CGIL), while much weakened in the 1950s, was still the largest. The Party had a widespread cultural apparatus with a battery of newspapers, magazines, research and cultural institutes, and youth clubs.
While the PCI was more liberal and modern in its outlook, and at least paid lip service to the wage demands of the workers, it was itself very absorbed into the dominant capitalist way of life. Individualistic Western consumerism was encouraged by the Party, which remained a patriarchal organization in composition, leadership and outlook. To illustrate: in the 1970s struggle over women's right to abortion, the Party took the position that abortion should remain illegal except in medical emergency to save the mother's life.
The PCI always supported male supremacy and undermined women's struggles. During the 1943-5 partisan guerrilla period the PCI was forced by necessity to permit communist women to organize separate women's defense groups. These became mass clandestine organizations of young working class women. In addition to being a support network for urban guerrillas, the women organized food collections for prisoners, staged raids on government coal trucks and redistributed the coal throughout the community, and conducted anti-fascist propaganda. Feminist campaigns in the fascist-run factories for "Equal Pay for Equal Work" won much support, as did the defense groups' anti-rape activities. In one case the groups led a large factory strike that forced the fascists to punish soldiers who had raped several women. Just before the April 1945 general insurrection that liberated Northern Italy, the women's defense groups led hundreds of thousands of women in closing transit and mail delivery in Turin.
As soon as the fighting stopped in 1945 the PCI leadership dissolved the women's defense groups, replacing them with a sterile PCI women's auxiliary for housewives. In the immediate post-war period the PCI also backed the imperialist campaign to drive women workers out of the major industries and to suppress any women's liberation activity. The undeveloped political consciousness of communist women then emphasized subordination to "socialist" patriarchy, and lost all the gains of the women's struggle.
If the Vatican represented an embalmed feudalism, the PCI represented an embalmed European Social-Democracy of 1900. Thus, both right and left had become different expressions of the backwardness of Italian bourgeois society.
BRIEF SKETCH OF ELECTORAL PARTIESItaly is a bourgeois republic with a popularly elected parliamentary government, similar in some ways to the u.s. Congress. However, the number of legislators each party had is based on proportion of votes captured nationally. The party or coalition of parties with the majority of seats in the Parliament becomes the executive, selecting the Prime Minister and Cabinet. There were eight major parties in Italian bourgeois politics, and a large number of minor ones. They were, in order of strength in the 1969-1970 Parliament (there have been changes since then):
- Christian Democrats (DC)—formed in 1944, DC is the mass, conservative Catholic party. Similar to the right wing of the u.s. Republic Party. This is the traditional ruling party; from 1948 through the 1970s every Prime Minister was DC. Social base is middle-size capitalists, small shopkeepers, rural landlords, rich peasants. Uses Catholic Church hierarchy as its electoral machinery (before elections most priests preach sermons about voting DC). Biggest stronghold is in the South, where Mafia and Church are the party. Has been in crisis since early 1960s, losing popularity. 42% of the Parliament in 1970.
- Italian Communist Party (PCI)—formed in 1921, PCI is now a classic example of the European working class reformist party. Social base among industrial workers and poor peasant day laborers in the North and Center. Increasingly recruiting young petty-bourgeois professionals who want a modern welfare state. As a vestige of its past as an actual Communist Party, the PCI is nominally pro-Moscow and anti-"u.s.a." in world affairs. 27% of the Parliament in 1970.
- Italian Socialist Party (PSI)—formed in 1892, was once the first Italian mass party of socialist workers. Now pro-NATO social-democrats. (Present 1985 Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi, is PSI leader. PSI has become more like PSU/PSDI.) Lost most of its base and social role in the working class to the PCI. Once as strong as the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) in the late 1940s, the PSI repeatedly lost left and right wings in various splits. 10% of Parliament in 1970.
- United Socialist Party (PSU) - formed in 1948, Was then called Italian Social- Democratic Party (PSDI) and has now retaken that name. Nominally social- democratic, but rabidly anti-communist. Was formed by C.I.A. to split socialist vote and prevent united front with Italian Communist Party (PCI). Financed and operated with u.s. AFL-CIO assistance. Although small, they are the party of u.s. imperialism in Italy. Since 1950s has been in Christian Democratic ruling coalitions. 5% of the Parliament in 1970.
- Liberal Party—despite name is conservative party. Traditional 19th century bourgeois views, closer to fascists than to the present Christian Democrats (by 1980s had' lost many members to the outright fascist groupings). 5% of the Parliament in 1970. Italian Socialist Party of Proletarian Unity (PSIUP)—formed in 1964 as a leftwing split from Italian Socialist Party (PSI). Provoked by majority PSI decision to end their traditional workers' united front with the Italian Communist Party (PCI), and instead join DC Premier Aldo Moro's first Center-Left coalition government. Left wing of PSI refused to go along with that coalition, wanted to still ally with PCI while making entire Left more militant; split to form PSIUP. Many 1960s New Left theorists (such as the Red Notebooks grouping) were in PSIUP. Main strength in Sicily and Sardinia. 4% of Parliament in 1970.
- Italian Social Movement-National Right (MSI)—formed shortly after World War II in 1946. The legal "neo-fascist" party. Italian constitution forbids reorganization of the fascist party, but the MSI is the direct continuation of Mussolini's party. Was organized by fascists to give them a legal front after they were amnestied by then- Minister of Justice Togliatti (head of revisionist PCI). Most ex-fascists went into more respectable DC, so MSI represented the hard-core, ideologically-committed fascists. Prominent MSIers originally included Prince Valerio Borghese (the "Black Prince"), an infamous fascist war criminal in WWII (he headed a special unit that worked with the Nazi S.S. torturing and killing suspected partisans). MSI thugs parade in fascist Black Shirt uniform a la Mussolini. Program is reactionary anti-Communism: physically wipe out Left, eliminate women's right of divorce, and so forth. Rightwing of MSI involved in terrorist mass bombings in 1960s; attempted fascist military coup in alliance with Italian Army elements in 1970s. Officially the terrorist wing left the MSI. Social base is petty-bourgeois and lumpen. Strongest in Naples, Southern region of Calabria, Sicily (since 1960s has gained much strength as Italian politics polarized). 4% of Parliament in 1970.
- Republican Party—formed in 1898, one of the first petty-bourgeois parties in Italy. Originally had an anti-clerical, anti-monarchist orientation. Small but influential in state policy; hold balance of power in coalition governments. Giovanni Agnelli, owner of FIAT corporation, is Party's most noted leader. Similar to Rockefeller wing of Republicans in "u.s.a." 1.5% of Parliament in 1970.
NOTE: 10-12% of Parliament were unaffiliated political figures and minor parties. The monarchists, who favor the return of the aristocratic system, were 1% of Parliament in 1970. The anti-revisionist Maoist or socialist parties that run in elections usually get under 2% total. Voting is compulsory in Italy.