1970s >> 1978 >> no-887-july-1978

Italy’s political killers

The Red Brigades carried out their first killing in June 1974. In Padua an armed commando entered the local Party offices of the MSI, the Italian neo-Fascist movement, handcuffed together the two men they found there, one a Party official the other an ex-member, and then shot them both twice in the back of the neck. Two years later, again in June, they shot dead a top magistrate together with his bodyguard and chauffeur, and last year, in April and November, they killed a Turinese lawyer and the assistant editor of the daily newspaper, La Stampa. So far this year their victims have been a magistrate, a police marshal, two prison officers and of course Aldo Moro and his five-man bodyguard. Add to this half a dozen kidnappings (the first in 1972) and scores of bombings and armed attacks on individuals, most of them since the kidnapping of Moro in March, and we have a picture of political violence paralleled in few of the economically advanced countries of the world.

Not of course that the Italian State is in danger of imminent collapse. As we pointed out last month the Red Brigades are a small isolated group with no support to speak of among Italian workers. Far from “striking at the heart of the State”, as they put it, they are impotent to do it any real harm and will ultimately find the massive resources and means of violence at its disposal more than a match for them.

This however is something they themselves do not see. They quite clearly consider themselves a real threat to the State and a potent ideological force among Italian workers. A mixture of jobless intellectuals and individuals from very poor backgrounds, many of them disaffected Communist Party supporters, they issued, in the 55 days that elapsed between the kidnapping of Moro and his killing, 9 communiques in which they tried to justify their activities and explain their position. Their theory as stated in these communiques, all of which were published in the Italian press, can be summarised as follows: — The old liberal nation-state is dead and has been taken over by the “imperialist states of the multinationals”. At the head of the “hierarchical chain” of this multinational imperialism (or the biggest links) are the USA and West Germany with other lesser states such as Italy forming smaller links in the chain and carrying out faithfully the directives coming from above. To pursue its economic interests and at the same time to crush the developing proletarian revolution this multinational imperialism has recruited a “politico-economic-military personnel”, “imperialist executioners who massacre the militants of the IRA, the RAF (the German Red Army Faction), the Palestinian people and the Communist guerillas of South America”. Hence the need for revolutionaries to put their strategy in a European, not just a national focus. Italy too has concentration camps in which “there are hundreds of Communist prisoners condemned to the slow death of centuries of prison”. Therefore the Italian slate, “the Italian branch of the greatest multinational of crime the world has ever known”, must be the target of revolutionary violence and the designs of the “imperialist bourgeoisie” must be upset by attacks on this “politico-economic-military personnel” which it has created and which is its expression. In a class-divided society “the Italian proletariat possesses an immense potential of revolutionary intelligence, an infinite amount of technical knowledge and practical capability which, by its own work, it has been able to collectively accumulate, a will and a disposition to struggle which decades of fighting for its own liberation has forged and made indestructible. Upon this stands the whole basis of our organisation: its growing strength is built on the solid foundations of the Italian proletariat and avails itself of the incalculable contribution that its best sons and vanguards make to the building of the Communist Party in struggle”.

This then is the “thinking” behind the Red Brigades’ War against the Italian state. And all the signs are that they see their analysis as original and striking. Yet if we remove some of the more fanatical rhetoric and a few of the contemporary references what we are left with is far from original. It’s a hotchpotch of ideas, slogans and expressions of wishful thinking common to and oft-repeated on the political Left for nigh on a hundred years.

Firstly the theory of “multinational imperialism” when looked at closely boils down to the old notion of capitalism being a carefully planned conspiracy on the part of the ruling class. Certainly capitalism is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracies, political, economic and other kinds, and Italy probably has more than its fair share of them. But to suggest that the whole system is run on a conspiratorial basis is to attribute to the capitalist class and their servants in government powers and controls they do not and can not have. Capitalism depends on the impersonal workings of the world market. It is not run by governments in collusion. What happens is that governments accommodate themselves to conditions created by the market sometimes consulting and acting in concert with other governments sometimes going it alone, but in all cases, and even in the context of an international organisations like the Common Market, acting in what they see as the broad long-term interests of their own national capitalist class. Capitalism may indeed have become more international than ever before but foreign investment is welcomed or otherwise by a government according to its capacity to increase that country’s competitive position in the world market.

The second part of the conspiracy theory propounded by the Red Brigades is that there is afoot an international bourgeois plot aimed at crushing proletarian revolution. As so many leftists before them the Red Brigades refuse to face the harsh reality that the vast majority of workers do not at the present time want revolution in any shape or form. They delude themselves that a mass revolution of which they themselves will be the leaders is just waiting to be touched off and that the ruling class has got together, in this case internationally, to prevent this from happening. The fact is that when the majority of the population of the advanced world want revolution, nothing the ruling class can do will prevent them from having it. At present the authorities have the workers as their willing allies and even if they do possess the complex secret apparatus of repression the Red Brigades talk about, it is for use not against a mass workers’ movement but against small violent minority organisations like the Red Brigades themselves.

Picking off members of this apparatus, the so-called “politico-economic-military personnel”, i.e. rich or prominent individuals, is also an old trick and, as history has shown, quite futile. It is based on the “Great Man” theory of history whereby leaders not conditions are seen to determine the course of history. Since the death of Lenin and Stalin’s rule in Russia leftists have argued that if only Trotsky had triumphed over Stalin things would have been different. Different perhaps they would have been in their details but Trotsky’s own blood-stained record leaves little doubt of his capacity for a ruthlessness to which the conditions and the need to develop state capitalism in Russia would have forced him. The conditions create the men, not vice versa. And if one man disappears another is always on hand to take his place. This, it seems, is a lesson lost on the Red Brigades. Their murder of individuals such as Moro may bring them notoriety and give them a small place in history but its impact on historical development will be infinitesimal.

Lastly the self-confessed “vanguardism” of the Red Brigades. This desire to lead has been a characteristic of all small left-wing groups since the last century. The Red Brigades correctly see society as class-divided but imagine that a small group of determined individuals can lead a revolution against the capitalist class and take the working class with them. They would no doubt argue (they frequently make reference to the theory and practice of Lenin) that this idea is confirmed by the Russian experience of 1917. But what Lenin did in Russia was to set himself up as dictator of those he had led and establish a brutal state capitalist regime as far removed from Socialism as could possibly be imagined. The consequence of violent minority revolution has always in fact been violent minority control. If the Red Brigades—and given the totally different conditions from those existing in Russia in 1917 this would be nothing short of miraculous—were to take over in Italy, the result would be the same. The only kind of revolution truly possible in Italy, as elsewhere in the advanced world, is Socialism in which there will be neither leaders nor led. It will be a majority democratic revolution without the need for violence and will change the basis of society from production for profit to production for use, from world competition to world cooperation.

All sorts of theories have been advanced to explain why Italy is suffering from the violence of these would-be revolutionaries more than most other countries. Sociologists have been at it, so have politicians, historians, psychologists, et al. Insufficient reforms, the Communist Party’s shift to the centre, high unemployment, inefficient education system, traditional Italian leaning towards extremes Italy’s late and rapid development in the industrial field not being matched by progress in its infrastructure, social services, etc: these are all reasons offered to account for this phenomenon. And there is probably a good deal to be said for many of them. But when looked at closely none of them is a cause but an effect of the system of society in which we live. The effects of capitalism itself, which is the real cause of political violence in the world today wherever and whenever it takes place.

Howard Moss