Last year saw the 40th anniversary of the 1978 Spring Campaign of the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse, or BR), a month-long offensive against the Italian state initiated by the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.
May 16th, 1978, was the date on which a new cabinet, one which included for the first time members of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI), was supposed to have undergone a confidence vote in the Italian Parliament. The “historic compromise” between the ruling Christian Democratic Party (DC) and the PCI had been orchestrated in large part by Moro, the president of the DC and former prime minister of Italy.
That was the day chosen by the communist Red Brigades to launch their most ambitious offensive to date. Moro’s car was ambushed after it turned onto Via Fani, a street in the northern quarter in Rome; his five bodyguards were killed in a hail of gunfire, and one of the highest profile politicians in Italy was in the hands of the urban guerrilla.
Moro would be held by the Red Brigades for 55 days. During this period he would write a total of 86 letters to important figures from Christian Democracy, to his family, and to Pope Paul VI, urging that they come to terms with his captors, who had indicated that they would release him in exchange for the liberation of a number of political prisoners. Despite Moro’s pleas, the government refused to negotiate with the “terrorists.” Finally, on May 9th, Moro was executed; his body would be found in the trunk of a Renault 4 in Via Caetani.
These events—known in Italian simply as the “Moro case”—continue to be the subject of speculative conspiracy theories and dramatic “human interest” accounts in Italy. The closest parallel on this side of the Atlantic would likely be the Kennedy assassination, in terms of the popular fascination and range of interpretations elicited from across the political spectrum.
Earlier this year, Kersplebedeb republished the 1980s underground book Strike One to Educate One Hundred, a history of the Red Brigades providing detailed background about the group’s origins and activities in its first years of activity, prior to the Moro action. This is a unique book, the only one we know of in english which provides a sympathetic appraisal of the Red Brigades from a revolutionary communist perspective.
Strike One is limited, however, in that it does not deal with the Red Brigades history in the years that followed. This is a gap which remains to be filled — there are no english-language studies from a revolutionary perspective of those years, which constitute the larger span of the BR’s practice.
Nonetheless, the work on filling the gap has begun. Recently published by Kersplebedeb, 1978: A New Stage in the Class War? Selected Documents from the Spring Campaign of the Red Brigades, brings together the key texts by the BR in relation to the Moro action. The first, the February 1978 “Resolution of the Strategic Directorate of the Red Brigades” was released three months prior, and establishes the conceptual framework within which the BR was operating at the time. It presents the BR strategy of protracted armed struggle in the context of their analysis of the “Imperialist State of the Multinationals” and of the class composition of the Italian social formation. This is followed by the nine communiques issued by the group during the captivity of Moro, and by the March 1979 document “The Spring Campaign: Capture, Trial, and Execution of the President of the DC, Aldo Moro” which further clarifies what the BR meant by the “heart of the state”, criticizes the “anti-political” alternatives offered by elements within Autonomy, and extensively discusses their understanding of how the national crisis developed as a result of their action. These texts from the Red Brigades are supplemented by “Achtung Banditi”, the editorial from the June 1978 issue of the Marxist-Leninist journal Corrispondenza Internazionale, which sharply criticizes the strategic line of the BR from a revolutionary perspective sympathetic to armed struggle.
In addition to these texts, 1978: A New Stage in the Class War? contains an introduction by editor Joshua Depaolis, and as an appendix a Partial list of actions in Europe following the 1977 “death night” in Stammheim Prison, in West Germany.