Red Brigades in the 21st century

A comrade sent me the following article about the capture of some people trying to re-establish the Red Brigades in Italy. It’s from the Wall Street Journal, and so bound to be neither sympathetic nor necessarily even accurate, but nevertheless worth a quick read.

For more on the historic Red Brigades, be sure to check out the first chapters of the book Strike One to Educate One Hundred, scanned and uploaded on the Kersplebedeb site.

Googling, i found a few more things about these busts. Vincenzo Sisi writes a short defense of the fact that he was active in the trade union movement at the same time as he was trying to prepare for armed struggle, entitled Who are the rotten apples?; i particularly liked this paragraph:

How dare you say I’m an infiltrator amongst the workers and in the union. Epifani (a union leader) said we were rotten apples. He never worked three shifts, he was put there by the party system, which sold out the working class. I come from a working class family that paid for their union card and helped fill his plate with our blood. Who is the infiltrator in the working class? Who, me or him, is the rotten apple? At the congresses I said what I thought. My union are the workers! In conversations amongst the committees I always represented what was important for us delegates, the ability to build autonomy spaces at our places of work to stimulate the protagonism of the workers. But however well you do it you stay within the boundaries of the economy struggles in the factories. While the superiority of the union leadership, after years of retreats and defeats, becomes an instrument to control the class.

There are two other short texts by Sisi in english on the Secours Rouge Internationale website here as well as a text in french by Sisi and three other militants.

also in french there is an article from le monde up on the PCMLM website

if i see anything else i will let you know, in the meantime here is the Wall Street Journal article – thanks to my correspondent for sending it to me:

In Europe, Some Still Cling To Dreams of Revolution; Group Nabbed in Italy Appears to Hark Back To Lethal Red Brigades

Gabriel Kahn and Kristine M. Crane. Wall Street Journal. (Eastern edition). New York, N.Y.: Dec 13, 2007. pg. A.1

GASSINO TORINESE, Italy — One night in February, 40 police officers in ski masks burst into a house in this small town near Turin and arrested Vincenzo Sisi. The charge: running an armed terrorist group.

Giancarla Lorenzin, his wife of 26 years, thought it was a mistake. Her husband, a press operator at a factory, had no criminal record and professed nonviolence. They spent weekends hiking, bicycling and gardening. “I’ll see you in a few days,” she told him as he was hustled out by police. He caressed her cheek and shook his head no.

Mr. Sisi knew things she didn’t. For years, he had lived a double life, appearing as a model citizen while secretly running a radical group that plotted bank heists, bombings and assassinations, police say. They describe Mr. Sisi and more than a dozen others arrested that day as the new face of the Red Brigades, a violent left-wing group that haunted Italy during a bloody era of the 1970s called the “Years of Lead.”

Some of those arrested had been underground for years. Mr. Sisi, for one, is 54 years old. Others weren’t yet alive in the 1970s; they include 20-something factory hands, a call-center operator, a pony- tailed mailman and a student named Amarilli Caprio.

Ms. Caprio, 26 when arrested, seemed above suspicion. She came from a middle-class family in Padua, had good grades in high school, wrote poetry and was studying languages at a Milan university.

Police uncovered clues they say make clear members of the group were armed and preparing to act. Dogs sniffed out a Kalashnikov assault rifle buried under the garlic bulbs in Mr. Sisi’s garden. They found a cache of automatic weapons buried near an abandoned farmhouse, sophisticated surveillance equipment in a Milan basement, ingredients for explosives and fake police uniforms. Among the group’s targets, police say, were the Milan headquarters of oil company Eni SpA and a professor of labor law.

Hearings to decide whether the matter goes to trial began this week. Attorneys for both Mr. Sisi and Ms. Caprio said their clients planned to fight the charges but declined to discuss the case. From jail, Mr. Sisi has written letters calling himself part of the “politico- military wing . . . preparing for the struggle to finally end the barbarism of exploitation.” Ms. Caprio, before a transfer to house arrest, signed prison letters “as always, with a clenched fist.”

Beneath the archaic rhetoric and sweeping ambitions is a remarkable story of a political movement’s survival. Long after Soviet communism collapsed, traces of a left-wing dream of revolution live on in corners of Europe, sometimes in virulent strains.

Adherents say they’re motivated by profound disappointment with how political struggles from a generation ago have played out. Instead of a more equitable society, they see one more out of kilter. Partly through years of strikes, European workers have won greater job and welfare protections. But debt-laden governments can no longer pay for it all, and a system of haves and have-nots has emerged. Young people chafe at a rigid job market with few opportunities.

Communist parties espousing workers’ rights still garner support. Italy has two, each with ministers in the government; France has five far-left groups. The parties retain the trappings of a militant era, like the hammer-and-sickle symbol, but most have lost their edge as they join governments and forge compromises.

One result is that some who still cherish the dream of revolution have been forced to the margins of society or gone underground. Although the mass worker movements that fed the political violence of the 1970s have long vanished, left-wing political terrorism retains a romantic appeal. Italian movies such as “The Best of Youth” and “Buongiorno, Notte” — co-written by a former Red Brigades member — paint a seductive picture of idealism and violence that resonates with some.

Investigators were struck by the sympathy the arrests kicked up. Graffiti in support of the Red Brigades and those arrested appeared on factory walls around Padua, and there were two protest marches. A Molotov cocktail was left, unexploded, at the home of a police investigator. That has left investigators with nagging worries. “We have dismantled this wing, but we don’t know if there are others,” says Bruno Megale, head of Milan’s investigative police unit. “I think the siren call of revolution is buried deep inside this society.”

In the 1970s and ’80s, a bloody ideological struggle in Italy pitted workers against bosses and left against right. Communists garnered up to 34% of the vote in elections. Strikes were frequent and often violent. Some elements, impatient with the pace of change, began seeing the unions and even the Communist Party as obstacles to a profound transformation.

A group with roots in the sociology department of the University of Trento in northern Italy evolved into the Red Brigades. Highly secretive, they counted 5,000 members, many with training in explosives, firearms and forging documents. Their attacks were brazen, including bank heists and prison breaks, and hit factory owners, politicians, journalists, police and military officers.

Attacks organized by the Red Brigades and other extremist groups killed more than 1,000 and wounded thousands. In 1978, the brigatisti kidnapped former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in broad daylight, killing his bodyguards. After 55 days, they shot him and left his body in a car trunk in central Rome. The brutishness of the assault isolated the Red Brigades from many of the workers they claimed to represent, but it didn’t stop them. Attacks continued, including the 1981 kidnapping of a U.S. general, James Dozier, who was later rescued.

Authorities who’d infiltrated the movement finally broke the back of it around 1984.

History seemed to do the rest: The Soviet Union collapsed, China embraced capitalism. Yet on a spring day in 1999, a man stepped from a parked van near the University of Rome and shot to death Massimo D’Antona, a professor and government labor adviser. In a dense manifesto, a group calling itself the Red Brigades took responsibility. In 2002, Marco Biagi, an economic adviser to the government, was slain with the same gun.

Not long after, Mr. Sisi, unknown to his wife, began recruiting militants to plot more attacks, according to his arrest warrant and other police reports.

Mr. Sisi had quit school at 15 for a factory job. He joined a union to fight for better pay and safer conditions. By the time he met Ms. Lorenzin in a disco in 1975, he was deeply involved in the ideological battles of the time.

Three decades later, he was still at the bottom economic rung, making around $1,900 a month after tax, according to his former employer, for operating a press at an auto-parts supplier. He was still fighting the same battles, railing against his employer over working conditions and safety standards.

At home, he and his wife focused on eating healthily, cooking the vegetables from Mr. Sisi’s garden. “He doesn’t have vices. He doesn’t smoke, drink coffee,” says Ms. Lorenzin, sitting in her living room under a crocheted “No Smoking” sign. Yet in between pursuits such as his garden and bicycling or hiking, Mr. Sisi was cultivating a violent plan, police say.

One thing he did, they say, was procure false documents and plan a clandestine border crossing for an associate from decades earlier. The comrade, Alfredo Davanzo, had been on the lam in France for 15 years after drawing a seven-year Italian prison sentence for subversive activity and arms possession. Investigators say Messrs. Sisi and Davanzo, with a third longtime radical, Claudio Latino, formed the core of the group.

In 2004, they began anonymously publishing a journal called Aurora, which pushed a Maoist-type strategy of “long-term class warfare.” The plan was to recruit followers in places where social tensions ran high, such as certain factories, universities and immigrant neighborhoods. The chance discovery of sophisticated surveillance equipment and bomb-making manuals in a Milan apartment building’s basement storage area put police on their trail. But they took elaborate diversionary measures when they got together.

While walking to a meeting, Mr. Sisi would duck behind a wall and emerge a moment later with a different-colored shirt, up to three or four times in a single outing, according to a police surveillance report.

Mr. Sisi’s arrest warrant says he would arrive in Milan from Turin by train and switch to the subway. He would take a zigzag route, jumping out of a subway car just before the doors closed and then taking another subway in the opposite direction.
Mr. Latino would arrive by bicycle. To elude a possible police tail, he would ride the wrong way down Milan streets and run red lights. He looked over his shoulder so frequently, say police, that more than once he crashed his bike into parked cars.

Arriving at their destination, usually a Milan street corner, the three didn’t greet one another but loitered on opposite corners. One would begin to walk and the others would follow at a distance. They might walk for miles before stepping into a cafe; or Chinese restaurant, never the same one twice. Ms. Lorenzin says she wondered about Mr. Sisi’s absences: “He would leave for whole days and not tell me where he was going, and not answer me when I asked him.” She assumed his trips had to do with union activism.

In the summer of 2006, the couple rented a cottage in the Alps. When Mr. Sisi and his wife returned after a walk, he would check to be sure nothing had been moved, according to the police surveillance report. He insisted testily that his wife never say “Milan” or “leaving” on her cellphone. When she told him he was being too cautious, he snapped, “You just don’t think about anything.”

Police were indeed watching. Through surveillance that sometimes included 30 agents across a single Milan neighborhood, they began to piece together the outlines of the group’s plans, such as amassing explosives.

On Aug. 31 of last year, at a meeting in a bar across from Milan’s Teatro Piccolo — recorded by the police — Mr. Latino said he had moved two people from Padua to Milan, where they had enrolled in the university to canvass students and “see if there are others who might be interested.” One of the two was Amarilli Caprio.

The daughter of a middle-class engineering consultant and a high- school literature teacher, who had named her after a demigod in a Virgil poem, Ms. Caprio attended the University of Padua. She also worked in a customer-service call center and became active in the local union. A co-worker recalls her as “combative but hard-working.”

Ms. Caprio was eager to earn financial independence, but the call- center job offered meager pay and few prospects. Like many other students in Italy, she languished in the university, with no degree six years after high school. In 2006, Ms. Caprio told her parents she was leaving Padua to enroll at the University of Milan. She said she wanted to learn languages that would allow her to teach Italian to foreigners, and there were more immigrants in Milan, recalls her father, Roberto Caprio. “She was independent,” he says, and he saw nothing odd about her move.

In Milan, Ms. Caprio and her boyfriend held meetings with other students and advanced a radical agenda, police say. The warrant doesn’t say whether they recruited anyone. After Ms. Caprio’s arrest, police say, they found her notebooks to contain lists of possible targets, the same ones discussed by others.

Her arrest came at 5 a.m. one day last February, in the Milan apartment she shared with her boyfriend. When her father in Padua got home that evening, his wife told him something terrible had happened and turned on the TV news. “I thought: ‘My daughter?’ I felt the whole world coming down on me for something that couldn’t be true,” Mr. Caprio says.

It was five days before he and his wife could visit Amarilli in jail. When they did, “she looked at her mother and said, ‘I did it for love,'” Mr. Caprio recalls. The love, he says, was for the working class.

In solitary confinement at first, Ms. Caprio spent her days writing poems, as well as letters home and to a radical Web site. In one poem, she saw herself as part of a long struggle of the working class. “We have callused hands,” it began, forged by “centuries and centuries of exploitation.”

Ms. Caprio turned 27 in jail on June 19 — a date, her father notes, that is recognized as the international day of political prisoners. In September, a judge let her finish her pretrial custody under house arrest at the home of an uncle near the town of Urbino, hundreds of miles from her home in Padua.

“When I can’t sleep at night, I try to make sense of what’s happened,” Ms. Caprio’s father says. “She was accused of proselytizing. We all do some form of proselytizing. Look at priests.” He adds, “Why couldn’t she have just taken to golf or something?”



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