Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Hidden HIstory of the Italian Left

"The Unseen,” by Nanni Belestrini – foreword by A. Negri, 1987

The unseen, the hidden half, the invisible people of Italy act.  A novelistic treatment of the events during the autonomist movement in Italy in the mid to late 1970s – a period of working-class turmoil similar to 1968.  Not on the NYT’s best seller list.  Will not be reviewed by the NYT Magazine.  No one on National Government Radio (“NPR”) will ever talk about this book or any book like it.  It is a play of light and dark, victory and prison.

A Negri, Theorist of Autonomist Movement
This is a picture of a generalized class struggle that does not last. A contest of power between the capitalist state, factory owners and the autonomist left.  The comrades wear shabby clothes: “How do you think about clothes when you are betting everything you’ve got?” The Leninists want a vanguard to lead the struggle.  The Italian Communist Party (PCI) is running the city and wants illegality to end.  It is the time of the ‘historic compromise’ – 1976 - when the PCI made a popular-front block with the Christian Democracy, the leading capitalist party.  The actual left was outraged. 

The villages around the city, a railroad ride away, are run by the Christian Democrats, a party based on the wealthy families in each town.  In the villages everyone works, especially at home, where piecework from the small factories dotting the area is doled out.  The families, especially the mothers, work for added hours every day putting together cheap parts to supplement their incomes. Some southerners have moved in from the backward rural south of Italy and a few village folks give them piece-work too.  The radical youth hate the ‘sanctimonious bigots all priest-loving hypocrites’ in the village and go to the city as much as possible.  “The movement was my family,” the lead character says. 

Young Italian students shut down a school in the face of their screaming principal.  Thousands of leftists fight carabinieri in an attempt to shut down a fascist headquarters after fascists kill a left demonstrator.  Helmets, tire irons, big wrenches, Molotov cocktails/petrol bombs and tear gas.  Cops run over a demonstrator with a giant jeep and shred his body. 

The illegal occupation of an empty Catholic building for a performance space, a clinic, a resource center, a press office. Many practical skills involved, as these are not bookish people. The comrades make a tactical decision and refuse to evacuate, then are stormed by carabineri with teargas.  60 of them escape over the roofs.  Real-life drama, better than all the fake Hollywood super-hero movies.

Tute Bianchi, struggle continues 1994-2001
The young lead character is arrested and interrogated because of a weapon found in a house he rented 3 years ago from a crooked attorney who wasn’t paying taxes.  The judge is also the prosecutor.  The appointed ‘defense’ attorney is indifferent.  The unseen is dumped in a medieval dungeon presided over by an incoherent dirty troll and then convicted on this incoherent evidence as a ‘terrorist.’

Indiscriminate arrests of activists are the order of the day if they have any connection to the movement. That is Italian justice.  Penned in a formulaic trial, the men and women prisoners meet in a swirl of color. There is a seesaw of power between prison captives and prison administration. Pictures of gruesome prison violence between non-politicals.  A ‘gentle’ prison rebellion by the comrades, capturing guards, seizing floors and grinding weapons.  Plastique is in play.  The comrade prisoners are lulled into complacency by prison negotiators until a sudden attack by helicopters, black ninjas and bombs.  The carabineri shoot and do not care if anyone dies. Then all the prisoners – politicals, non-politicals and even disguised guards – are beaten and beaten again by the guards.  Broken noses, faces, legs, arms, ribs, hands, brain damage.  The guards go on to destroy the prison, then blame it on the inmates.  Then the Berlusconi newspapers lie about it all. 

Still other inmate rebellions.  Refusals to eat the horrible prison food, dumped in the central walk. Flooding the floor.  Pots and pans banged at night.  Torches invisible to the population.  Similar to the IRA and Bobby Sands.  To no avail, as time must be served.  Forgetfulness must be observed.  

A centre is rented from a “Marxist-Leninist” Maoist organization that can’t afford the rent due to their tiny membership.  It then serves as an organizing place for the whole mass movement. Group theft, ‘the spectacle’ and creative disruption follow, allowing the movement to control the city neighborhood around the centre. In the villages, workers and students go from factory to factory, shutting them down in support of a factory occupation.  Sweat shops are invaded and destruction commences.  A feminist rebellion in the ranks.  A split of an armed action group from within the affinity group.  A leading 'military security' comrade becomes an informer.  

In this atmosphere, a stillborn pirate radio station is started.  But by now many have been arrested, had psychological breakdowns, committed suicide, become informers or drug addicts, and the station cannot go on the air.  Solidarity, the greatest weapon of the rebellion, has disappeared.  The government of the capitalists has crushed the movement.

The text is written without capitalization, periods or any punctuation, only blocks of paragraphs.  Sort of like ‘stream-of-consciousness’ except perhaps by an excited youth or a TV or movie camera that blinks regularly or perhaps like a prose poem.  You feel like you need to put the capitals on and place the periods, but you get used to it. The rhythm of the text suggests its own invisible punctuation.  Like the invisible history it charts.

Other books about Italy or anarchism on sale at Mayday and reviewed below:  The Dark Heart of Italy,” “Trumpolini,”Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs”, “Something in the Air,” “How Non-Violence Protects the State,” “The Society of the Spectacle” and “The Bomb.”  Use search box, upper left.  

P.S. - Inmates at many U.S. prisons, especially in the south, are on strike against the slave labor regime in American prisons.

And I bought it at Mayday Books in their excellent left-wing fiction section. 
Red Frog
April 5, 2016

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