More Work! Less Pay!

Image of book cover for 'More work! Less pay!'Phil Edward’s book “More work! Less pay!” is a challenging but very rewarding study of a key period in Italian politics during the 1970s, when a long wave of extraordinary radicalism swept the country. Best remembered now for the violent terrorism of Brigate Rosse the movement was much broader than that, involving factory occupations, graffiti, mass shoplifting, squatting. Furthermore, at its peak there were hundreds of thousands broadly sympathetic to this radical challenge.

While the murders and kidnappings were certainly a characteristic of the time, “political violence” also took the form of damage to property, arson, breaking windows and attacks on drug dealers and far right activists – by 1977 the neo-fascist MSI had been decisively driven from the streets as the culmination of years of militant campaigning.

Both the armed struggle groups and the rebellious direct action groups of the movement self-legitimised their own violence by contrasting it with the violence of the state, and police collusion with far right terrorism. Randall D Law’s recent history of terrorism shows that this argument had some credibility, with far-right violence mirrroring that of the left: “According to one calculation, there were over 14,500 politically motivated attacks from 1969 to 1994 producing over 1800 casualties. Unlike West Germany in the 1970s, where terrorists entertained fanciful dreams of creating a revolutionary crisis, Italy during this period was arguably close to one already.”  Fascist street violence was augmented by methodically planned outrages like the bombing of Milan’s Piazza Fontana in 1969 which left seventeen dead and eighty-eight wounded.

Italian politics provided two historical narratives that informed the developing crisis. Mussolini came to power in the 1920s through a protracted period of violent destabilisation of the state by his Fascio Italiani di Combattimento whose squadristi embraced an ethos of violence, excitement and camaraderie; therefore the high level of political violence in the 1970s created a not implausible apprehension for many in the democratic left that there might be a fascist outcome; secondly the tradition of armed struggle against fascism and the state had a long heritage, as early as 1928 Ottavio Pastore had proposed a military campaign within the Partido Comunista d’Italia; and in 1930 the Comintern in Moscow produced a manual on guerrilla warfare. In 1943 the exiled Communist leader Togliatti broadcast by radio to call for armed struggle, and the party began organising paramilitary Gruppi di azione patriottica who argued “for taking up the rifle to drive out the foreign invader”. Political violence, both from left and right, therefore had a low entry threshold. Those on the left who identified an increasing authoritarianism in the Italian republic as being proto-fascist could draw upon historical parallels from within living memory of guerilla warfare.

The focus of Phil’s book is on the cycle of rebellion between 1972 and 1977, which embraced four interrelated movements, the “area of autonomia”, the “Proletarian youth movement of 1975-6”, the “movement of 1977”, and the armed struggle milieu. Autonomia was a country wide movement of innovative and confrontational industrial action. The youth movements squatted buildings to create social centres, and organised “proletarian patrols” to assault drug dealers, to vandalise sweatshops, and collective underpayment of bills.

One of Phil’s objectives is simply to document the scale and radicalism of the diverse and overlapping movements. Whereas an innovative social movement that involves a constructive engagement and overlap with the mainstream might be historically remembered as a progressive phenomenon with a deviant fringe; one that is rejected in total may be lost to obscurity. With the partial exception of the Red Brigade murders and kidnapings the large scale rebellion in Italy is largely now forgotten.

In order to understand the period of crisis, and the political responses to it, Phil provides an account of the earlier cycle of rebellion, between 1966 and 1972, where innovative methods of struggle, and novel demands were prosecuted, but were later adopted by the trade unions and the Communist Party, enriching and reinvigorating the tactical repertoire of the mainstream left.

A particular strength of Phil’s book is the consise and persuasive account of the development of the Communist Party in the first republic, and how it evolved from partisan armed struggle to the compromesso storico . Togliatti had made a significant contribution to communist theory in understanding that the capitalists and middle classes had been pulled into supporting the fascist squadre due to their alarm at the weakening economic situation, the social turmoil and fear of socialism. It was therefore necessary for the Communist Party to advance positive political proposals offering a solution to the nation’s problems, and building a broad alliance around these proposals.

To exacerbate the crisis of capitalism in the absence of such a national-popular alliance was objectively to aid fascism (Of course, the fact that in Italy in the 1920s syndicalist revolutionary Marxists, like Sergio Pannunzio and Filippo Corradini, had become the main ideologues of fascism gave this argument further credibility.)

While Togliatti’s position of building long term cross class alliances could sound conservative, his conception of the relationship between progressive democracy and socialism was more radical. He proposed a series of  structural reforms that could be undertaken by a coalition between the communists and progressive members of the capitalist class. These would involve land reform, industrial restructuring and nationalisation; which would undermine the social base of fascism and provide a more favourable context for future left advance. The goal of far reaching structural reforms would keep the party leadership from accepting a reformed capitalism as an end in itself.

Phil quotes Togliatti from 1956:

“On its own a nationalisation may not mean much … But things change when this or other measures taken against monopoly capital are an integral part of a continuous action of a constant struggle … by big political mass organisations with the support of a large section of public opinion in order to impose … an economic policy which would be of advantage of the workers as of the middle strata”

Togliatti’s via italiano however suffered from a problematic formalism. The mass catholic party, Democrazia Cristiana at its inception had the potentiality to be a progressive partner within the anti-fascist constitutional settlement, including as it did a Christian left around figures like Giuseppe Dosseti. However, the trajectory of the DC swiftly closed that door, and the PCI suffered from a mythologisation that the resistance, and the immediate post-war coalition, were a successful model of an unfinished project.

The privileged and indispensable position offered to DC by the PCI theory disarmed the capability of the communists to develop a transformative political project in the face of the perpetual exclusion from government. Consequently they were trapped in a dilemma where they offered more and more concessions to Christian Democracy which weakened and disappointed their own mass popular base among workers and peasants; the communists continually stressed their own discipline and self-restraint in pursuit of an illusory anti-fascist alliance. Meanwhile Christian Democracy had long ago abandoned any idealism and had immersed themselves in corruption and maintenance of their position in power at all costs.

Togliatti’s death in 1964 opened a period of wide debate within the party, and the emergence of a new left wing. This meant that the party was well positioned to positively engage with the wave of radicalism, synthesising an acceptance of the innovative tactical repertoires of direct action with a rejection of its political philosophy. In effect the PCI acted as a “gatekeeper” allowing social movement to enter and transform the mainstream, while marginalising their most extreme elements. The gatekeeper role can be seen by the state amnesty negotiated for those who had committed criminal acts during the “Hot Autumn” of 1969, which rewarded those breaking from the revolutionary radicalism, while marginalising those who stayed loyal to it.

The winner of the inner party struggles was Enrico Berlinguer, who had considerable skill in arbitrating between the left and right. However, as I have observed before in the case of Harold Wilson, the diplomatic skill of coalition building within a political party is paradoxically ill-suited to the more robust demands of prosecuting the interests of that party in contention against other social forces. This paradox is even more tragic when we note that resolving the inner party struggle can improve the short term electoral prospects.

Under Berlinguer’s leadership, and especially following the coup in Chile in 1972, the PCI adopted an increasingly belligerent attitude to the new social movements, framing the argument in terms of them being irrational, nihilistic and proto-fascist. At the same time, the PCI was enjoying electoral success and membership growth; combining both a strategy of institutional engagement and political legitimacy, and also providing a constructive entry into the mainstream for those radicalised by the revolt of 1969.

However, the terms of Berlinguer’s strategy meant that it was incapable of similar engagement with the second, and more violent cycle. The PCI had adopted a distinctive Catholic inspired rejection of individualism, libertarianism and materialism which made it particularly unsuited to relating to the youth movements; they were pre-disposed to see the social crisis as favouring fascism; and the ideological space for the Communist Party to contain within it different possibilities had been closed by Beringuer’s victory.

This social conservatism of the PCI meant that it itself became a target of innovative youth rebellions like the Dadaist “Metropolitan Indians”, and at a more sinister level the PCI became identified with the authoritarian executive power of the state by armed struggle groups like the BR. The “Resolution on Strategic Direction” issued by BR in 1978 suggested that they saw no differentiation within the institutions of the state and its ideological pillars of support; and that the armed struggle was designed to strip away the illusion that capitalist rule was governed by consent. There was therefore a continuum between the social movements and the armed struggle groups, both in terms of ideology, but also violent tactics, as militants autonomists might beat up bosses or scabs in pursuit of industrial struggle, or destroy property. The armed struggle groups were seen as part of the movement even by those who rejected that violent repertoire.

The second cycle of rebellion however received no constructive engagement with the mainstream; its participants were offered no route out of the cold, due to the intransigent hostility of the PCI in its gatekeeper role. All of those who accepted the potential legitimacy of armed struggle were anathematised, not only those who participated within it. It was insufficient merely to not be violent yourself, it was also necessary to condemn those who were violent, and condemn those others who did not condemn violence loudly enough. Tactical innovations, like social centres in squatted buildings, were labelled as unacceptable merely by association with the broader movement that contained within it a violent minority, rather than being inherently unacceptable.

This left only two options for those engaged in the rebellion, either demobilise completely, or further identify with the armed struggle agenda. The PCI’s hostility had a crushing impact on the broader radicalism, but briefly led to a diffusion and greater intensity of armed struggle among an increasingly marginalised minority. However, the outcome was also disastrous for the PCI, seen as too conservative by young radicals, but too left wing to be accepted as a party of government.

For those actually engaged in armed struggle, there was now no going back. Phil quotes one participant: “to go right to the end was the only chance for redemption I had, from a moral point of view, both from the violence I produced and the violence I suffered”

Although Phil does not make the explicit connection, the modern problem of Jihadi terrorism has many parallels. The current climate of Islamophobia seeks not only to delegitimise political violence, it also seeks to delegitimise those who share overlapping political and social objectives with the Jihadis, even those who utterly reject violence themselves and seek to work through conventional democratic channels. The danger is by this demobilisation of democratic pursuit of those objectives, the credibility is enhanced of those who argue that terrorism is the only option available; and those who are already on the periphery of terror will be consolidated on that trajectory.

‘More work! Less pay!’

 Rebellion and repression in Italy, 1972–77
Phil Edwards

Phil Edwards is Lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University

234x156mm     256pp
hb 9780719078736   01 July 2009   £60.00

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See also Crooked Timber

33 comments on “More Work! Less Pay!

  1. Cheers – good review! I like the Harold Wilson/Berlinguer comparison – both brilliant at what they did, highly popular and successful in the short term & disastrous for the broader movement in the longer term.

    The parallel with the British state’s take on Islamists is very close. The question has always got to be, not “do we condemn terrorists?”, but “do we condemn everyone who’s labelled a terrorist, everyone who sympathises with terrorists and everyone who doesn’t sympathise but refuses to condemn terrorists?” What happened to the PCI is an awful warning of what happens if you answer Yes to the second question.

    PS it’s “Crooked Timber”, not “Cooked”!

  2. Hi Andrew,

    £60 is a ridiculous price, but MUP have said they’ll only issue a paperback when/if the hardback sells out. Have you got a library you could badger, or a journal you could persuade to get you a review copy?

    Perhaps one day I will write up my reminisences of me ol’ mucker Toni Negri.

    That sounds like it would sell better than mine!

  3. Sorry, one more thing – I’m a lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University. I told the press that I “lecture in criminology at Manchester University”, which is true – I just don’t have a staff position there. However, since the book came out I have got a job at the Met.

  4. neprimerimye on said:

    There is n0o chance of buying this book at £60 but this review is a dire apologia for Eurostalinism.

  5. Marko on said:

    “this review is a dire apologia for Eurostalinism.”

    Hell is the impossibility of reason was written for you neprimerimye!

  6. this review is a dire apologia for Eurostalinism

    That’s quite a feat, considering that the book is an indictment of “Eurostalinism”!

  7. That pricing in annoying, but it’s part of a recognized academic publishing strategy. Releases priced like this aren’t ever intended for the general market. They’re intended for university libraries who have standing orders to purchase whatever that publisher releases. Hence the real crisis in academic publishing a few years back when uni libraries cut back on purchases. They’d start asking potential authors to see if their university could cough-up a few thou to help out.

    It’s not surprising, then, that the Historical Materialism series of books put out by Brill and sold for like 100 euro each is (1) getting re-released in paperback by Haymarket books in the USA and that (2) these HM books are all over the internet as downloadable PDF files along with other unobtainable academic books released and priced with such a market in mind.

    P.s. – This isn’t a criticism of the author or the book at all, which I would love to read. £30 secondhand at Amazon.co.uk, by the way.

  8. I have not read the book but no doubt it is very solid.

    The main problem with the review is that there is not comparison between the difference between the Jihadists and the ‘moderate’ Islamist type of theocrats, and the difference between the BR/PL etc and the autonomy.

    There are so many distinction that a comparison is ridiculous.

    Let me start with some – since I have actually met and known some of the Parisian exiles involved in these events.

    The ‘violence’ of the period referred to was not neatly divided into broader “movement that contained within it a violent minority” in the sense that one was actively engaged in the ‘armed struggle” and the rest merely in breaking laws to squat or such as self-shopping etc. The autonomy not only the BR was pretty violent as well. It is indeed this ambiguity which allowed the Magistratura (loathed for ever by Negri for their actions (and not just speech) btw to get autonomists (such as Negri’#s lot and he himself) under the laws.

    It would be ridiculous in any case to imagine any part of the autonomy working through “conventional democratic channels”.

    A better comparison to make with the Jihadists and the ‘democratic’ Islamists (whose objectvives are not at all democratic) is with the split between the violent Italian fascists (Bologna bombing onwards), the ‘Gramscian’ strategy of Evora and the Italian homologues of the Nouvelle Droite, and the ‘post-Fascists’ (who retain fascist objectives). It may well be a good thing that Foiri has been replaced by Fini, but neither is a democrat. Neither are the Islamists who hold the Sharia and the Caliphate.

    On some of the debates around Negri and the more modern ideas of the autonomy (Virno) TC has referred to them most recently in this review of Zizek:

    http://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/slavoj-zizek-first-as-tragedy-then-as-farce-review/

  9. Tommy on said:

    The current climate of Islamophobia seeks not only to delegitimise political violence, it also seeks to delegitimise those who share overlapping political and social objectives with the Jihadis, even those who utterly reject violence themselves and seek to work through conventional democratic channels.

    Hang on, are you honestly claiming that people who seek to introduce sharia and have homosexuals crushed under walls and adulterers stoned to death in public — these people deserve legitimacy as long as they try to win power through the ballot box? And furthermore, anyone who rejects the legitimacy of Taliban-style barbarism is “Islamophobic”. Er, no, comrade.

  10. #10

    A better comparison to make with the Jihadists and the ‘democratic’ Islamists (whose objectvives are not at all democratic) is with the split between the violent Italian fascists (Bologna bombing onwards), the ‘Gramscian’ strategy of Evora and the Italian homologues of the Nouvelle Droite, and the ‘post-Fascists’ (who retain fascist objectives). It may well be a good thing that Foiri has been replaced by Fini, but neither is a democrat. Neither are the Islamists who hold the Sharia and the Caliphate.

    a rather politically loaded comparison.

    The Italian fascists were and are the heirs of Mussolini, perpetrators of mass terror, war, imperial aggresion, and in the period of the Salo Republic, genocide.

    Muslims in Britain today are subject to discrimination, prejudice and a a relatively powerless minority being scape goated while Britain itself fights a neo-colonialst war in Afghanistan.

    If you want to see the modern day British descensents of the squadre they are the English Defence League promoting the hatred against Muslim, not the Muslim victims of that prejudice themselves.

    You are also, to my knowledge, wrong about the differentiation in violence between those armed sruggle groups who graduated to murder, kneecapings and kidnappings; and the less militaristic direct action methods of the autonomia, which while admittedly violent were essentially non-military. Even then, there must be a further distinction becasue many in the movements personally rejected all volence, while simulataneoulsy believing that the violence of the autonomia and the armed struggle groups were still part of the movement.

  11. #11

    “Hang on, are you honestly claiming that people who seek to introduce sharia and have homosexuals crushed under walls and adulterers stoned to death in public “

    this reminds me a bit of the stereotypes common in the 1930s of Jewish moneylenders.

  12. The ‘violence’ of the period referred to was not neatly divided into broader “movement that contained within it a violent minority” in the sense that one was actively engaged in the ‘armed struggle” and the rest merely in breaking laws to squat or such as self-shopping etc. The autonomy not only the BR was pretty violent as well.

    Absolutely. The way ideas about violence were used in the period is really interesting – on one hand you have autonomists pointing out (correctly) that far more people were killed by lack of workplace safety than were ever killed by the Red Brigades; on the other, you have Communists celebrating the “firmness” of their stewards and their “refusal to be drawn into confrontation”, which actually meant beating up autonomists and chasing them off the streets. Nobody was actually non-violent (apart from some feminist groups, and by no means all of them).

    Not sure how that plays into the Islamist analogy, though! (And at the end of the day it’s a book about Italy in the 1970s.)

  13. many in the movements personally rejected all volence

    Mmm… yes and no. Certainly many in the movements rejected the use (and display) of firearms – I think the reason Metropolitan Indians carried tomahawks was as an ironic reflection on this. But very few people, if any, rejected physical force as a means to an end – there wasn’t much fluffy NVDA going on.

  14. #14

    Neverthless Phil, inspired by your book I recently dug out an article I had from 1978 by Paulo Petta from Praxis “UFOs, Star Wars: the theory and pracice of the Red Brigades” which marks a clear differentiation between the “professionalised” armed struggle groups, and the majority of the movement.

    The trouble is that the term “violence” in this context obscures more than it reveals. There is a difference between military operations – shooting, kidnappings, bank robberies; and street fighting, even if that can injure and even kill people.

    The military foci – by necessity – get drawn into a self-referential and unaccountable cycle of clandestinity and lethality; whereas the physical force traditions of a mass movement – “robust” stewarding is open for all to see, and the social sanction for it is explicitly or implicitly granted by mass organisations, whereas terrorists give themselves “permission”

  15. #15

    “many in the movements personally rejected all volence”

    “Mmm… yes and no. “

    Well I am prepared to take that correction, but I was thinking more of issue that there is a distinction between those who tacitly approve or condone violence, and those who organise or carry it out. In the sense of personally deciding not t be involved in it, many people did “reject” it, which is the point I am trying to make.

  16. Since we’re fortunate enough to have the author commenting here, can I ask a question:

    I just finished reading Steve Wright’s book on Italian autonomism, and wondered what you make of his work, and how yours is different.

    Thanks.

  17. #14
    Phil: “And at the end of the day it’s a book about Italy in the 1970s.)”

    Yes, I can see how that might work at Crooked Timber, good luck with it here though!

  18. the social sanction for it is explicitly or implicitly granted by mass organisations, whereas terrorists give themselves “permission”

    Yes – or else argue that the workers support them in email^W^Wtacitly, because their actions respond to “deep-rooted mass needs”.

    I don’t disagree with the point you’re making – there is a significant difference between being in a group like the Red Brigades and being part of the mass movement of 1977, say. What I would say is that it wasn’t a matter of violent/non-violent so much as militarised/non-militarised – or perhaps highly militarised/less militarised/even less militarised/etc. And the Communists were very quick to accuse the autonomists of being (to use a Northern Irish phrase) the “men of violence”, without really needing to back it with anything more than a bit of pushing and shoving.

    James – Steve’s book is great, & I’ve relied on it a lot; there are only a handful of decent books in English on this stuff, and that’s definitely one of them. The difference between his book and mine is that he was more interested in writing an intellectual history of Autonomia and operaismo, rather than a history of the movement.

  19. Wow, this sounds like a book right up my alley! Compare those exhilirating and creative days ( both in terms of political ideas and the arts) with the toilet of Italian politics and (culture) nowadays. There’s a great political thriller from 1974 with the English title of Exquisite Corpses starring the always reliable Lino Ventura as a detective investigating a series of magistrates murders that leads to some very interesting places that some here may enjoy.

  20. Exquisite Corpses

    Isn’t that based on Sciascia? His book on the Moro Affair (which is available in English) is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in the PCI or Christian Democrat Italy – not just the Red Brigades.

  21. Bob-a-job on said:

    Self-publish 100 copies in paperback, as I assume you have the copyright, then see how quickly your publisher wants to bring it out in paperback.

  22. Tommy on said:

    this reminds me a bit of the stereotypes common in the 1930s of Jewish moneylenders.

    Sounds a bit forced and contrived to me, Andy. 3/10.

  23. Not at all, you are the one touting lazy stereotypes.

    I’m not going to say anything more after this, because left-wing terrorism in Italy is an interesting subject in its own right, and I don’t want to knock the thread off-topic.

    But it’s not invoking a stereotype to say that jihadis, and those who share their Islamist aims if not their violent methods, seek the introduction of sharia law, which typically mandates the barbaric execution of homosexuals and other who offend their medieval morality.

    And besides, it hardly behooves a Marxist to complain about stereotyping when that creed’s methodology is to reduce entire populations to an abstract “class nature” and totally disregard their differences as individuals. For example, Marxist terrorists in Italy justified the murders of Americans and businessmen, chosen more or less at random, in response to the supposed crimes of “imperialism” and “capitalism”. How about that for stereotyping, comrade?

  24. anticapitalista on said:

    Would love to get a copy as many on the Greek left were/are influenced by that period in Italy. (Many similarities here in terms of the ‘punch ups’ between the KKE/KNE and the various revolutionary left groups)

  25. Marxist terrorists in Italy justified the murders of Americans and businessmen, chosen more or less at random, in response to the supposed crimes of “imperialism” and “capitalism”.

    False. I defy you to name two of these ‘random’ murders.

  26. £30 secondhand at Amazon.co.uk, by the way

    !!!

    How many secondhand copies of a new £60 hardback can there possibly be? But go for it if you’ve got the money to spare – the paperback when it comes will probably be pushing £20.

  27. #21
    Oops! Me and my bad memory…the film I was referring to in that comment is Illustrious Corpses NOT Exquisite Corpses. Sorry!