The Red Brigade

“The most serious political crime in the last 30 years”, was the way an Italian newspaper described the kidnapping of leading conservative politician Aldo Moro. On March 16, in the middle of Rome, left-wing “guerrillas” murdered Moro’s bodyguard, snatched him from his car and vanished without a trace. On May 9, Moro’s bullet-ridden body was found in a car in Rome after, according to his captor’s communiqué, he had been sentenced to death in a “proletarian trial”. The secretary of the United Nations had intervened, so had the Pope, but to no avail. In return for Moro’s life the “Red Brigade”, the organisation which carried out the kidnapping demanded the freedom of other violent left-wingers at present being held in Italian gaols. The Italian government’s refusal led to Moro’s murder.

Just how politically “serious” was this terrorist act and the sequence of events that have followed it? Certainly at the time of the kidnapping the talk was of “civil war” (a leading politician of the Italian Republican Party) and of “armed attack on the heart of the state” (editorial in the Corriere della Sera). And when he was killed ” . . . the First Italian Republic is ended” (former President Saragat). But this was not the first time political violence in Italy had provoked crisis rhetoric along these lines. The Red Brigade began their operations against the Italian state in 1970 gradually escalating their violence to the kidnappings, leg-shootings and murders of more recent times.

Judges, magistrates, journalists, business men, minor politicians and others considered to symbolise or uphold the power of a repressive state have been their victims. Each time the cry of “political crisis” has gone up — and each time, within a short period, the whole thing has been quietly forgotten, along with the individuals who have suffered in the affair. The plain fact is that the violent acts of a small band of fanatically determined individuals (the Red Brigade numbers a few hundred at the most), for all the media coverage they obtain and the temporary panic they provoke, pose no threat to a state that commands a superior potential for violence and above all the support and allegiance of the vast majority of the population.

The Moro affair may have caused a bigger stir than the others, dragged on longer and made politicians and other VIPs shiver in their shoes but in perspective, it will be seen, like the acts that precede it, to have been a mere surface feature of Italian capitalism, a wild ineffective lunge at the armour of the state not a blow at the heart of it.

The killers too are quite mistaken as to what will be the effect of their violence. When they talk about “striking at one man to educate a hundred” (Red Brigade slogan), they imagine that terror tactics will stir the population to a mood of insurrection which they can then harness to topple the state. The effect their activities have in fact is just the opposite. Far from persuading people to accept their ideas they frighten them into even greater solidarity with the powers-that-be (witness the spontaneous general strike of 15 million workers immediately following Moro’s kidnapping and the demonstrations and strikes immediately after the discovery of his body) and make it possible for the tangible democratic rights and freedoms that do exist under capitalism to be eroded or removed.

The repressive laws passed by the Italian Parliament (easy interception of telephone calls, arrest on suspicion, interrogation without legal representation, random identity checks, compulsory notification to police of accommodation let or bought) several days after Moro’s disappearance are of course what the Red Brigade were aiming at. They believe that measures of this kind following their acts of terror expose the repressive nature of the state and force it to “shed its mask” of liberalism and benevolence. They fail to see however that such measures will, given the circumstances have wide support among the working class and will not be condemned as being anti-democratic and repressive.

We should in fact have no illusions about the coercive nature of the state and should not attempt to provoke further repressive measures to illustrate the constraints it puts on the vast majority who sell their energies for a wage or salary. Instead of this we must, unlike the violent organisations on the Left, face up to the fact that for the moment the majority of wage and salary earners are quite willing to live with capitalism in its present form and realise that their minds will not be changed by acts of violence. Such violence can only strengthen their attachment to the established order and create an atmosphere of unreasoned emotional reaction in which it is all the more difficult to put Socialist ideas across.

The insurrectionists, the Red Brigades the world over, are right only about one thing — the capture of the state is a prerequisite for revolution. But not for a revolution of minority violence (which would anyway be just another replacement of one kind of repression by another), but for a revolution by the ballot-box in which a majority of convinced Socialists in all the advanced parts of the world will use their votes to establish a society of free access and democratic control. In Italy as elsewhere the left-wingers — both those who practice violence and those who tacitly approve it — would do well to think carefully on the consequences of minority action and decide whether there is not a more constructive way of expressing their dissatisfaction with life under capitalism.

Howard Moss

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