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Death of a Publisher

On March 15th of this year Giangiacomo Feltrinelli died a horribly violent death. The millionaire publisher, the man who first brought Dr. Zhivago to Europe, was found with his right leg blown off, his left side shattered and his face mutilated underneath an electricity pylon on the outskirts of Milan. Surrounded by powerful explosives, he had fallen victim, so it seems, to his own terrorist activities. A small technical hitch, fatal for him, saved half Milan from being plunged into darkness.

Giangi Janji, as his society friends called him, was no ordinary terrorist. With a miser for a father he inherited a vast fortune made in industry and banking and proved no mean capitalist himself. But he used part of his 140m. personal fortune in a somewhat unaccustomed way. Since his disenchantment with the political acrobatics of the Italian Communist Party in the 1950's, he is known to have contributed large sums towards the financing of left-wing guerrilla organisations. Globe-trotting, multilingual agitator, he managed to get himself expelled from Bolivia, France and Germany for subversive activities and in visits to Cuba formed a close personal friendship with Fidel Castro [1]. Until march 15th, however, he appears to have limited himself to merely advocating violence[2] and supplying others with the means by which to wage their vicious and futile war of iron bars, Molotov cocktails and home-made explosives. His first personal venture into this field was his last.

The extra-parliamentary Left has claimed, quite predictably, that this "45-year old boy scout" (as the third of his four wives called him) was murdered either by fascists or through an "international capitalist plot backed by the CIA". Despite the monstrous regularity of such claims from the left, its interpretations are by no means to be excluded. But if the Italian extra-parliamentary groups submit their record to examination, they can hardly be surprised at the incredulity with which people treat their protestations.

Just three days before Feltrinelli's death, for instance, various left-wing organisations, according to a prearranged plan of battle, brought panic and terror to the streets of Milan—and this for the umpteenth time in recent years. If you happened to be in Milan that day and were fortunate enough not to be burned by a guerrilla petrol bomb, or suffocated by police tear gas, you would have enjoyed a grandstand view of the kind of battlefield closely worked-out guerrilla strategy can make of today's big urban centres. Lines of trams with smashed windows; cars turned over and used as barricades; petrol stations set ablaze; police jeeps wrecked as they collide trying to crash through barricades; swollen heads, bleeding faces and screaming women and children. Even the poor Chief of Police has his trousers scorched by flames from one of the fires lit by guerrillas to distract the police and add to the confusion.

"What has all this to do with Socialism?". you may legitimately ask. Nothing at all, except that the organisations engaging in these activities, and those like Feltrinelli who support and finance them claim to be Socialist. The effectiveness of their action in propagating Socialism can be measured by the demands continually being voiced by large sections of a frightened antagonised Italian working class to suppress all minority political groups as a threat to public order. So aside from the utter confusion these self-styled "defenders of the proletariat" spread among the working class as to the nature of Socialism, they also bring about a climate in which the limited political rights already existing within capitalism can be reduced or removed. They put on a precarious footing the right to organise and spread Socialist ideas[3]. Perhaps we should not be too harsh on them, for, given their lack of political understanding, they can hardly be expected to see that minority violence is completely out as an instrument of Socialist revolution.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this sorry mess, it must be that those who live by the sword always run the risk of dying by it. The few ideas and the conditions of capitalism itself are far more reliable agents of revolution—the revolution, that is, in people's minds which must precede the changeover from today's system of money and scarcity to a world of free access.

H.K.M.

 

[1.] Such was Castro's respect for Feltrinelli that he once agreed to suspend one of his periodical round-ups of Havana homosexuals when his guest took exception to it.

[2.] In 1968 his publishing house put out a manual of articles with instructions on how to make Molotov cocktails, bombs and explosives.

[3.] Italy already has a law concerning "subversive propaganda". On 15th March 1972 the editor of Il Bolscevico, a left-wing journal, was sentenced in Florence to a year's imprisonment for bringing out a leaflet with the words: "Democracy and republican institutions must be smashed and destroyed by the proletariat".