Enter the Red Brigades, the New Moral Opposition: Left-Wing Terrorism Has Returned to Italy, Arguing That the Berlusconi Government Deserves Criminal Status. Is This a Watershed for the European Left?

Article excerpt

"At bottom" - said a colleague about Marco Biagi -- "he was an ingenu. He wholly underestimated the impact, not of his ideas for reform (which achieved a consensus among many people, even within the left), but of the company they made him keep. 'What?' people would say. 'You're working with [the labour minister, Roberto] Maroni?' And he'd reply: 'If I write good music, what does it matter who plays it?'"

Marco Biagi, a moderate leftist law professor, was advising Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government (made up of a coalition of such viscerally anti-left parties as Umberto Bossi's Lega Nord and Gianfranco Fini's Alleanza Nationale). Biagi was murdered at the hands of men who claimed membership of the 30-year-old Red Brigades terrorist faction.

Biagi, who had advised the previous left-of-centre between Ulivo government, was a and perfect target for the Red Brigades. Their hatred is sparked above all by those who seek a consensus between left and right. Their most famous victim, the former Christian Democrat prime minister Aldo Moro, kidnapped and killed in 1978, was an architect of the "historic compromise" designed to bring the Communist Party into a governing coalition.

The Brigades' most recent victim before Biagi was Massimo D'Antona, killed nearly three years ago in Rome, and also a labour law professor advising the (centre-left) government. Two other government advisers had been attacked: Professor Gino Giugni was shot and wounded in 1983 and Ezio Tarantelli was killed two years later.

Leninist to the core, the Italian far left believed that the worst traitors were those who sought to incorporate labour into the bourgeois state. More than any other revolutionary left in the rich world, it was "workerist" -- seeking to supplant the mass Communist Party which, in pursuit of electoral success, had become increasingly revisionist under its leader Enrico Berlinguer.

Italy's extremist left was drawn from a student body that had grown in the 1960s through a vast expansion of university places -- places that, however, had been created without matching expenditure, teaching staff or post-graduation jobs. The far leftists sought to influence and lead a working class which had also grown rapidly during Italy's economic miracle years from the 1950s to the 1970s, and which contained millions of workers who had left the land, often in the south, to seek factory jobs in the industrialised north.

Both would-be leaders and would-be led were raw, usually young, disoriented, often guilt-ridden (if middle-class) or uprooted (if working-class). The anni di piombo, or "years of lead" (bullets) from 1972-89 bequeathed to Italy a tradition of terror. This was amply matched by the fascist right -- the rightist terror with links to the military and secret services so strong that moderate Catholics such as Moro (hated as much by the far right as by the far left) feared a coup from that quarter far more than from the left.

These were years of fearsomely radical change in a conservative country, a change in which Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao and even Stalin were close guides for the strategies and exegesis of the scholar-revolutionaries who filled the pages of short-run, short-lived journals with denunciations of the state, the bourgeoisie, the Church and each other. The groups -- La Lotta Continua, II Manifesto (a lively daily paper of that name is still published), Potere Operaio and Operaio Sociale -- were united in their contempt for the Communist Party, from which many of the members had defected: they agreed that it had ceased to envisage revolution as an urgent, violent possibility. They themselves would usher it in. The texts all said it: violence had to be the handmaiden.

One figure provides a link between the years of lead and the time of the new "regime", as the Berlusconi government is now called by the left: the academic political philosopher Toni Negri. A leader of Operaio Sociale, he believed, by the early Seventies, that "the horizon of armed struggle" had been opened up by the "constant innovation of political initiative" on the part of the working class. …