Antonio Negri schetst de situatie in Italië, waar parlementair links het af heeft laten weten en nieuwe sociale strijd ontstaan is.

Afgelopen week is Italie weer het toneel geweest van massale stakingen. Arbeiders van FIAT in Turijn hebben daarbij, naar het voorbeeld van de Argentijnse Piqueteros, snelwegen geblokkeerd. Antonio Negri, schrijver van het boek ‘Empire’ (dat in november door Van Gennep in een Nederlandse vertaling uitgebracht zal worden) schetst de situatie in Italië, en verklaart hoe het vacuüm dat parlementair links achtergelaten heeft, nieuwe kansen schept.

Creating a new Left in Italy

A year ago the big Genoa demonstrations against the G8 summit were a shockawakening for Italy. A few months previously the Left had been swept from power and Silvio Berlusconi seemed to think that his huge electoral majority gave him carte blanche to do what he liked. Genoa upset his plans. The anti-globalisation movement turned out in force and mobilised large numbers of people. New forms of struggle are now beginning to emerge, and a workingclass offensive on various fronts has shown no sign of abating.

Paradoxically, by bringing people out onto the streets the victory of theRight has raised hopes for a possibility of re-founding the Left and rebuilding the Republic.After Silvio Berlusconi's victory in the Italian elections of May 2001 it was obvious to observers of the political scene that the Left had been utterly routed. Not only had it lost seats, it had also lost confidence. The rise of social democracy was reaching its limit, and the reformist turn of the ex-great and glorious Communist Party of Italy (PCI) was foundering in historic defeat. The various components of the centre Left were quibbling among themselves under the fierce and ironic gaze of the victor. Then came Genoa and the events of July 2001.

Wielding plastic swords and cardboard shields the anti-globalisation movement set off to scale the heights of the G8 summit. This was a new gathering of political and socialforces. Politically it brought together people from the far Left autonomia movement (the tute bianche, so named because they wear white overalls on demonstrations) and Catholics groups with experiences of working in the community. Both of these components - each present in large numbers and witha history of militant activity behind them - brought in their wake a multifarious tribe of demonstrators.In social terms the multitude (1) represented at Genoa was the first full representation of the new layer of precarious workers in "social" labour produced by the revolution of post-Fordism. When they first came onto the streets they were not fully aware of their power, but they knew that they owed nothing to the ruling Right - and even less to this centre Left that had been defeated because it had contributed to breaking working-classresistance to neo-liberalism (as well as stupidly participating in the creation of new proletarians). They were also aware that a new poverty was being created - precisely within the area of intellectual and immaterial labour, a key area where signs of emancipation have been beginning to emerge.Genoa was a huge shock.

For the first time in Italian history the police acted with absolutely no restraint, with techniques of "low intensity warfare" akin to those used by the Israelis in Palestine. Carlo Giuliani, a young demonstrator, was killed by a bullet fired in his face by a policeman who was the same age as him. Twenty-four hours later, in the night, a hundred sleeping demonstrators were brutally attacked and injured by groups of overexcited police.The social democratic Left had been absent from the preparations for theGenoa demonstration, and even when faced by the horror of what had happened they were at a loss for how to react. And to its shame the parliamentary opposition was no better. It was fearful and half paralysed, incapable of protesting in the face of the huge perversion of democratic process that Berlusconi's government has perpetrated. All the above explains why we now have a new scenario in Italy. Grassrootsmilitants, intellectuals, teachers and women are publicly voicing their discontent about the lack of substance in the Left leadership and its inability to lead. This has been dubbed the movimento dei girotondi, the "ring-a-roses" movement. It is not contesting social democracy as such but rather the inertia and vacuity of the Left leadership. It expresses itself through public meetings involving well-known intellectuals of the Left (2).This movements of dissenting intellectuals has coincided with a development of social movements in Italy.

We have seen a proliferation of demonstrations on the streets. On 10 November 2001, as a response to the attacks of 11 September, the Right attempted to organise a march "in solidarity with theAmerican flag" - in other words in support of the US decision to initiate a programme of long-term global war. Hundreds of thousands of counter-demonstrators took to the streets to oppose the march and to express their desire for peace.Trade union revivalImmigrants also staged marches - in Rome and elsewhere - against theBossi-Fini law (3) which proposed that the Rights of immigrants(particularly residence permits) should be tied to their having regularjobs. This expresses perfectly the hypocrisy of a country which is Europe'snumber one in terms of illegal labour and the violence of its government.
Immigrant resistance has been so strong that this year the first "colourstrikes" were staged in key industries in Northern Italy. Another front of resistance has been the campaign against the imposition of Berlusconi's school reform programme: hundreds of thousands of students and teachers protested in the streets over a period of several weeks.In short, since the summer of 2001 we
have seen a cycle of continuous struggles against everything from war to the growing impact of neoliberalism in Italian society.
Genoa provided the foundation for this movement and still serves as a reference point. It was also after Genoa, and on the margins of this "multitude" of struggles, that we again began to see action by the trade unions. The unions too had been profoundly disorientated by Berlusconi's election victory.While some of the fringe elements - for instance the engineering workers of the Italian
General Federation of Workers (FIOM-CGIL) and several of the teaching unions - had supported the anti-globalisation initiatives, the leaderships of the big unions were in the same state of disarray as the Democratici di sinistra (DS - Democrats of the Left), particularly since they had been accustomed to having an easy time in exchange for their support for Italy's centre Left governments. In two particular instances their inertia would be radically shaken.In the first of these, the response of the social democratic Left to electoral defeat was to try to to regroup via a shift to the Right.

At the DS congress in Pesaro in November 2001 this led to a fierce clash with the CGIL trade union. The ex-Communist Party leadership was perceived as a political elite with no scruples in its determination to hang on to power. A combination of cynicism and Blairism. But this is not a choice open to the CGIL: it knows that young workers feel far closer to the demonstrators at Genoa than to the old-style corporatism of the Left. So the union feels obliged to oppose the centre Left's drift to neo-liberalism. The second instance was the arrogance of the Berlusconi government in its push to abolish Article 18 of Italy's statuto dei lavoratori (workers'charter) which says that people cannot be sacked without "good reason".Although this has generally remained a dead letter it is now acquiring increasing symbolism.It was these two provocations that brought the trade union leadership on to the terrain occupied by the autonomous movements, the "Genoans" and the"girotondi" activists, and this in turn fed into the anti-war movement and the movements against school reform and discrimination against immigrants.

On 23 March 2002 a march by 3m people capped a process that had begun in Genoa less than a year previously. A formidable movement is in the process of recomposing itself, contesting not only the current government but also -and above all - the opposition parties. The aim is to rebuild a Left worthy of the name.This movement, now representing about 20% of the Italian electorate, is obviously complex. It has to choose between a number of possible scenarios.The first is the option of maintaining the present "Blairist" leadership of the centre Left, the option supported by the media. This would lead inevitably to a growth in trade union struggles, and probably also to violent resistance. But it is possible - and this is the second scenario -that despite its internal
divisions the present CGIL leadership might find ways to combine with elements of radical Catholicism to rebuild a decent social democratic Left with a chance of electoral success in the foreseeable future.For a concept of "absolute democracy"?
This second scenario finds some favour on the Left. It would have the advantage of marginalising the post-communists who since the 1970s have been actively involved in repressing social movements, muzzling the trade unions, bureaucratising parliamentary representation and contributing to the present reactionary shift, thereby betraying the communist tradition. However in my opinion we need to be very careful here.
The worrying part of this scenario is not the probity or coherence of the CGIL leadership but its cultural deficit - a culture best described as workerist. It still fantasises a governing project based on the old idea that the working class can still bethe bearer of "hegemonic" values, in the Gramscian sense. Unfortunately the world is no longer made that way. Most of the new movements consider that any attempt to rebuild a Left has to be based on entirely new sectors: The working class, of course - but also precarious workers and the poor. Industrial workers but also intellectual workers. White men but also women and immigrants.
And this brings us to the third and final scenario, the one being advanced by the anti-globalisation movement,now the strongest component of the Left. This would involve rebuilding the Left around a Welfare State programme, with a guaranteed income, universal citizenship, freedom of migration, and a new definition of common goods which would then be defended and promoted in terms of ecology, productionand what we call the "biopolitical". This new programme - for a next and more advanced stage of the communist revolution - is now firmly lodged in the political awareness of substantial numbers of citizens and militants of the new Left.
It is a programme for"absolute democracy" as Spinoza would have said and as Marx would have wished: a republic based on the broadest possible cooperation between citizens, and on the development of common goods.

These are the terms in which we can really talk about freedom for all. The alternative would be anabandonment of the ballot box and a negative and frustrated exodus by the citizenry. Therefore in Italy we now need an open and deep-rooted debate between the components of this new movement and those of the the trade union Left. Both sides first have to get rid of the present social democratic leadership.They must break the dead weight of bureaucracy which still acts to stifle the social movements. They will have to mobilise people around a new programme of opposition to the globalised world market. They will also have to win back to politics the 20% of voters whose abstention is a form of passive resistance to electoral politics, and involve them in participation and citizenship. These people could be a powerful force for transformation.
I should stress here the importance of administrative participation and,more generally, of associationism. These involve a complete re-think of the very concept of politics, conceived not as representative but as expressive,and also of the concept of militancy. It is important that we make them a reality.After 23 March this rolling growth of movements and struggles appeared to lose some of its political intensity. This phase of uncertainty was apparent when, faced with a trade union call for a general strike on 16 April 2002,the anti-globalisation movement also called for a "generalised strike", but did not identify the forms that this should take. Where people acted on the slogan it resulted in demonstrations which were small and which, unlike what happens when factory workers go on strike, had no real impact on the powers that be.
Precarious workers, flexible workers, mobile workers and what we call the "social" worker were not able to hit the bosses where it hurts.This meant a certain loss of confidence and a temptation to return to the old methods of representation of the CGIL. A temptation to be avoided. The problem is not leaderships but politicalline and a relaunching of hope. The problem is that social democracy has exhausted its historic mission. In all big political meetings you now hear people saying that we must re-found the movement outside of the socialdemocratic tradition, by building unity between factory workers and other workers and the excluded, and by recognising that the social "precariat" and the intellectual forces of production are now predominant in politicalterms. But above all what is being expressed, in pockets of activity all over Italy, is an intense and intelligent desire to discover forms of social struggle giving organisational expression to the new unity being created on the streets. For instance people are now thinking of ways to organise strikes within what we call "immaterial" labour to communicate struggles by using the connectivity of the Internet; and to take apart capitalism's command over the metropolis. This is the way - indeed it is the only way -that the Left can be rebuilt.

So, to sum up: Italy is absolutely the best example in Europe of a situation in which a failure of the social democratic Left has been followed by aneffective action of resistance. We have experienced a kind of leap inconsciousness. It is hard to define, but what it tells us is that the multitudes no longer need social democracy in order to struggle and change the world. The talk in Italy is of a "movement of movements", a process of seeking out new forms of political expression both at the theoretical level and in grassroots struggles. The project is to set in place new systems of hegemony. The "Italian laboratory" has begun its work.

Antonio Negri

(Co-author, with Michael Hardt, of Empire, Harvard, 2000)

Translated by Ed Emery

1) Definitions of the political terminology used in this article can befound in Empire, Harvard University Press, Cambridge and London 2000, and Revolution Retrieved: Selected Writings of Toni Negri, Red Notes, London1983. Some of the ideas are also developed in articles contained at
2) For example an impassioned outburst by film director Nanni Moretti at a public meeting organised by the centre Left in Piazza Navona, Rome in February 2002 served to catalyse a whole segment of the broad Left. People went and organised human chains around public institutions under threat from Berlusconian reform - the headquarters of RAI (the Italian broadcastingcorporation), lawcourts, etc.
3) Umberto Bossi is the leader of the xenophobic and secessionist Lega Nord(Northern League). Gianfranco Fini heads the Alleanza Nazionale (formerlythe Italian Social Movement - MSI) which since the mid-1990s has transformed itself into a party of the liberal Right. Bossi and Fini are both members of the Berlusconi government.

(Dit artikel was oorspronkelijk op GlobalInfo gepubliceerd door Antonio Negri.)