“What causes apathy in the States that suffer from it is the duration of the illness, which seizes the imagination of men and makes them believe that it will never end. As soon as the day comes when it does, which never fails to happen when the apathy reaches a certain point, they are so surprised, so relived and so carried away that they immediately swing to the other extreme and, although they are far from considering revolution to be impossible, they believe it to be easy, and this disposition is sometimes capable of making one on its own.”
Cardinal de Retz, Mémoires
Our social preoccupations were obviously not born from a romantic outburst of the heart, but intelligent reflection, because in the relative but incontestable poverty of certain social strata, we don’t see suffering that must be cured – a demagogic utopia on which we will willingly let others speculate – but a disorder to be prevented. Yet in no other period of history have so many principles and concepts been enunciated, and with so much pretense and claims to universality, where this matter is concerned. If history seems to most often present itself as a conflict of interests and passions, our recent history up to these last few years – although passions have not been lacking – has mostly presented itself, instead, as a struggle between principles of justification and partly as a struggle between subjective passions and objective interests that are almost always hidden behind the flag of “superior” justifications.
Over the years, we have impassively witnessed the lamentable spectacle presented by our bourgeoisie, which has justified itself to the other classes by what it intended to do in defense of the “exploited” people and, reciprocally, the other classes, which work at this project all the time, were accused of pursuing egotistic interests. This was one way among others – although a less than useful one – of passing the time at a time when one could still allow oneself to waste it. For our part, we note that the quite respectable and artificial interest of these gentlemen in social questions had a principally psychological origin. This interest was its own justification, and more or less responded to the “moral” need to soothe one’s conscience in one manner or another during the period of the “economic miracle,” which made these men quite euphoric. With an academic casualness and a studied ignorance, they discoursed about social questions, because the new middle class believed them to be nearly resolved and hadn’t known about nor comprehended the magnitude of the revolutionary jolts of 1919-1920, nor even how the bourgeoisie had defeated them. However, in reality, a solidly unified and vague worry about, and genuine disinterest in, civil society was hidden behind this “sensitive” façade. Among the members of the bourgeoisie, class spirit had been lost, and this corresponded to the loss of its self-assurance and the acquisition of a great timidity. In our opinion, this new bourgeoisie feared being right and feared being afraid. Shortly thereafter, they came to realize that they were right to be afraid.
The ruling class’s lack of interest in the mutations then taking place in civil society reached its height when an unforeseen fact of global scope was suddenly revealed, but in a traumatic way.
The insurrectionary events that shook France in May 1968 unquestionably showed that a new social revolution, one unburdened of all previous illusions and delusions, was knocking at the door of modern society. At first it wasn’t understood and then it was hidden – not without reason – but this insurrection was, due to its very existence, the most scandalous and terrible failure that the European bourgeoisie had suffered since 1848. As in 1848, the wind of revolt blew all over Europe, and it was inhaled in France as in Germany, in Italy as in Czechoslovakia, in Yugoslavia as in England. In different forms and diverse fashions, the thoughts and actions of the populations in open revolt against society turned against the world that is ours, and these were the same populations that (no less than the ruling class) seemed to have forgotten for a half-century what people in the 19th century called the “social question.”
We need not insist upon recalling here that, in 1968, France experienced the most extensive and longest general strike that had ever paralyzed the economy of an advanced industrial country, and that this strike was also the first “spontaneous” general strike in history. For several weeks, all of the powers of the State, the political parties and the unions were quite simply effaced, and the factories and public buildings in all the cities were occupied. Because we do not want to obligate anyone to share this opinion, it is outside the scope of this pamphlet to demonstrate why the events of May were profoundly revolutionary and virtually much more dangerous to the world than the Russian Revolution of 1917. Thus we will limit ourselves to considering the facts that these events set a very menacing precedent and that the ideas of the movement that began then and there have spread everywhere, because everywhere in Europe the poor classes have grown in number, their importance has grown more than their way of life, and their aspirations have grown more than their power.
Ever since the French Revolution of 1789, that is to say, ever since the bourgeoisie seized hold of the political responsibility for the management of the States all over Europe, the people in these countries have sought to throw off their conditions, thus [periodically] changing all of the political institutions. But after each change, they have discovered that their lot hasn’t truly improved or that it has been improved with an unacceptable slowness with respect to the speed of their desires. Thus it was unavoidable that, one day or another, the workers would finally discover that what has confined them in their situation wasn’t the constitution of the different States – kingdoms or republics, fascist or Socialist dictatorships, parliamentary or presidential democracies – but the very laws and principles that constitute all modern societies, and thus it was natural that the poor classes sooner or later came to wonder if they didn’t have the power – and perhaps the right, as well – to change those laws as they had changed other things. And to speak specifically of private property and the State, which are the foundations of the entire social order, wasn’t it an unavoidable consequence that they were once again (but in a completely new way) denounced as the principal obstacles to the demand for equality among men and women, and that the idea of abolishing them completely – and not in the manner that one once said they had been abolished in Russia – came to the minds of all those who felt that they were subjected to and excluded from them?
This natural inquietude in the spirit of the people, this unavoidable agitation of their desires, this resentment of unfulfilled needs, and these mob instincts formed, as it were, the fabric out of which professional agitators wove monstrous or grotesque figures, which were rejected by all the political parties and especially by the Communists. In May, in Paris, each person proposed his or her own plan for the construction of the “new society.” One demanded the immediate abolition of salaried work; another the inequality of the distribution of goods; a third wanted the end of market society and the oldest of the inequalities, the one between men and women; all seemed to agree to exclude all kinds of external authority, to experiment with forms of direct democracy, to reject all institutions, political parties and unions.
The most attentive observer was struck by the fact that, quite contrary to what was collectively said at the time, the overwhelming majority of this movement wasn’t composed of students, but workers and other salaried employees. One could obviously find utopian or simply ridiculous ideas among them, but the terrain on which these ideas were nourished and propagated is the most serious subject that the political parties and statesmen can examine today, because what is in question is our very world.
In France and Czechoslovakia, where this insurrectionary movement (it would be more exact to call it a revolutionary movement) had principally taken hold, who repressed it with the greatest efficiency? Who favored or imposed the return to normal in the factories and streets? Well! In one case as in the other, it was the Communists: in Paris thanks to the unions; and in Prague thanks to the Red Army. This is the first lesson that we can draw from those events.
But the social sickness that produced the most conspicuous symptoms in France was quickly transformed into an epidemic, and Italy was subjected to the contagion in a completely unique way. The incubation period and the development of the sickness came so close together in time that here it is a question of writing history, and that history is still so well engraved in our memories that it would be useful to retrace it in this pamphlet. It is sufficient to remember that the so-called student protests were naturally, here as elsewhere, ephemeral and quickly became a simple phenomenon of depravity – tolerable due to the presence of so many others – that occupied the pages of the daily newspapers and the discourses of the intellectuals rather than a vital sector of productive society. Nevertheless, each person knew that a quicker, less apparent but much more worrisome movement – parallel to and contemporaneous with the student movement – had begun in the factories, at first without connecting links or widespread publicity. Despite the traditional unionized management of the Italian working class, Italy also saw its first forms of “spontaneous” struggles and para-union strikes. Precisely because the significance of this phenomenon was underestimated at the time, it was easy for it to spread during the following months with a growing radicalism. A kind of frenzy seemed to have seized our workers who, united into so-called “base committees,” began in an autonomous manner to advance extravagant extra-salary claims that were sometimes colorful and sometimes absurd, but always noxious because, in every case, they found partisans who were ready to fight for them. Leaving aside all the other examples, we will mention the one furnished by the employees of an important public enterprise in Milan, where at the end of 1968 a “base committee” organized (and with “success”) a series of strikes that aimed at getting the time it took the workers to get from home to their workplace counted as time at work and thus subject to compensation as such!
We had the impression that the workers were literally in competition to see who could record the greatest amount of damage with their disastrous fantasies. In reality, the declared goal of each particular conflict was out of proportion with the social damage that the generalization of the strikes and demonstrations of all types caused to the country. In our opinion, the rest of the workers did not care what they combated: what they wanted was combat itself. Thousands of pretexts were found, but this was the single undeclared goal, and no salary increase would suffice to appease them.
We know that it was, nevertheless, only in 1969 that Italy experienced all of the fateful “modernity” of its social crisis. In fact, it was the first serious disorders in the prisons and factories of the North, along with the revolt in Battipaglia in the spring of that year, that illustrated the extension of the crisis from one end to the other of the peninsula and that could be called the “qualitative leap” of the crisis’ seriousness with respect to the prior year. In truth, the passions of the students of 1968, despite their claims that they were from “the Left,” didn’t go beyond politics, while the passions of the working class were social, and our readers will not be ignorant of what this inevitably implies. The workers did not ask for this or that reform; they did not contest a policy, this government or that government, or one political party or another, but society itself and the bases upon which it rests.
And yet, despite all this, we can affirm that in this period the government was not as alarmed by what took place in the country as were the leaders of the Communist opposition. In the first phase of 1969, the only people really and truly worried about the near future were a few union leaders [English in original] and officials of the Communist Party, because they were the only ones to observe the working classes from close range, each day registering their mood and subversive will. The state of permanent agitation in the country had already surpassed not only the hopes but also the desires of the most fervent unionists, that is to say, those who believed (wrongly) that they were at the origin of the phenomenon. This wasn’t the first or the last occasion in which we were able to recognize the lucidity of the Honorable Giorgio Amendola, but perhaps on this occasion he surprised us even more than usual and, as a result, we held him in even greater esteem than before. Unlike so many others, this politician possessed an agile spirit, cold but cordial, eminently subtle, which immediately went to the heart of any question, but didn’t neglect the details, without prejudice and without rancor, a true connoisseur of the range of human weaknesses and penchants, especially where his party was concerned, and always capable of playing upon them when his interests weren’t opposed to him doing so. In sum, he was a man whom we could not prevent ourselves from esteeming and listening to. And so much more so in such an epoch as post-1968 Italy, when the Honorable Rumor, President of the Council, did not enjoy our confidence because he said things of this kind: “Be tranquil, everything will end well, there isn’t a free government that couldn’t surmount tests of this sort.” We, who are less worried about the fate of the government than we are about all the other problems, we found that this response perfectly captured this resolute but limited man, limited with much spirit, but this spirit is of such a kind that – seeing clearly in detail all that is on his horizon – doesn’t imagine that this horizon could change without warning. On the other hand, we must keep in mind the industrialists, some of whom – victims of an anguish that is confined to cases of pure and simple stupidity – imagined doing nothing more than calling the unions to order, as if the unions, from the moment that they weren’t responsible for this situation, had been in a position to be officially opposed to it without running the risk of having the movement eliminate them and, this time, formally.
It was around the middle of 1969 that we came to explicitly demand from the Italian Communist Party [ICP] what guarantees it could offer the government to help it stop the workers’ movement before autumn and what it would demand in return. The Communists, who knew better than anyone else the magnitude of the stakes and the danger of this movement, transmitted their wishes, but both political power and a large number of industrialists – either because they underestimated the risks of the months to come or because they overestimated the “risks” of any agreement with the ICP – found the compensations demanded by the Communists to be out of proportion to the guarantees that they could offer. With a posteriori knowledge, we can say that the Christian Democrats still ignored the strength and utility of a Communist party in such circumstances and that the ICP, for its part, underestimated the strength that the wave of “spontaneous” strikes would have in the following months, because the Communists counted on time and the “natural” speed of the events with a little too much casualness, awaiting the moment when they would be called, and the Christian Democrats counted too much on the fact that the Communists – so as to not come to an open break – had in any case to do what they had promised to do, even without receiving immediate compensation for it. The calculations of both groups would have been justified or justifiable if confronting a political crisis was the order of the day. Both sets of calculations proved to be insufficient, not to mention thoughtless, because everyone seemed to forget that Italy was actually in the midst of a pre-insurrectionary social crisis. From the moment that the Communist leaders, expecting subsequent developments, remained entrenched in a position that was no less rigid than that of the Christian Democrats, who nevertheless bore the initial responsibility for this stiffening and did so from the moment it became clear that, in this case, one could not come to the end of anything by this route and that one had to act immediately but in another way. What, consequently, was the direction to follow? We will answer with the words of a journalist (Nicola Adelfi, writing in the pages of Epoca), because a great philosopher who taught more than a century and a half ago pointed out that, “there is all of the truth and all of the false in public opinion,” and because journalists are specialists in public and private opinions. To wit: “A number of political, union-related and political symptoms make one think that this situation will continue (…) We don’t see how the wave of violence can be broken or even simply attenuated. At least not without the occurrence of something unforeseeable and traumatic in nature: that is to say, something that, unexpectedly, deeply shakes public opinion and gives it the feeling of finding itself henceforth a step away from anarchy and its inseparable companion, dictatorship.” We couldn’t have said it any better ourselves, but for something “unforeseeable and traumatic in nature” to take place, one needed to have, above all else, a homogenous and less fragile government than the Rumor-Nenni Center-Left coalition. We know that, after the formation of the first Center-Left coalition, various representatives of economic power took up or placed certain men in eminent positions in the unfortunate Socialist parties, which were called unified at the time. Well! To topple the Rumor-Nenni Center-Left coalition, it was enough, at the beginning of July , to ask the Social Democrats (always ready to undertake operations of this kind) to provoke a new split. The unification intended to last 10 years collapsed after only 10 months. The next day, the government fell and, a month later, at the beginning of August, Rumor constituted his second “mono-color” government, in which all the currents in the Christian Democratic Party were represented, if our memory serves us well. Despite all of its inadequacies, Rumor’s cabinet appeared to us to be among the most efficient in the history of the Republic, if only for the actions successfully executed by the Minister of Labor, the Honorable Donat-Cattin, and the Minister of the Interior, the Honorable Restivo, during the autumn of 1969, which since then – in an admirable understatement [English in original] – has been called “hot.”
As the foreign press affirmed at the time, the only institutions that continued to function in Italy were the unions and the police, that is to say, the Ministries of Labor and the Interior. Carlo Donat-Cattin had in fact once been a union leader, and Franco Restivo, close friend of Vicari, then the Prefect of Police, had already had (with Vicari) experience with political terrorism in Sicily (of which Restivo had been the president) after the Second World War, when the bandit Giuliano ran wild. Precisely in 1968, a number of small attacks using explosives – though they didn’t have serious consequences – contributed to increasing the disorder that the protests by students and workers continued to create in the large towns, and even in the small ones. These were acts of narrowly limited scope in comparison, for example, with the acts of sabotage that were taking place in the factories. These limited attacks bore the signatures of fascist or Maoist groupuscules that there fighting their local adversaries, but these attacks were at the origins of larger ones and, as Tacitus says, “it will not be useless to study those things that, at first sight, are trifling events, because out of them the movements of vast changes can arise.” Because in Italy, at that time and afterwards, the unions and the police weren’t the only forces that still functioned. For several months, the secret services had been silently at work, too. And since the political sphere continued to shilly-shally in the face of the worsening crisis, it was necessary to finalize (before the summer) a tactical diversion, an artificial tension of which the principal goal was to momentarily distract public opinion from the real tensions that were tearing the country apart. In the next chapter, we will see what were the undeniable advantages of such a tactic, and what were also the damages that it inflicted when it was transformed into a strategy, and we will therein render public the critiques that, in another place and at another time, we addressed to our secret services, which – due to a blunder that had no precedent in history – today are publicly exposed to the accusations of the first judge to come along and the entire country.
And so, although the aforementioned small attacks were the background [English in original] for these tactical diversions, their proper beginning coincided with what took place in Milan on 25 April 1969 and during the month of August . The operations to which we have alluded here were, in a certain sense, a repetitive preview of the events that took place in the autumn of 1969. These events were not expected and, starting in September, the first acts of sabotage of considerable magnitude took place at the FIAT factory in Turin, the Pirelli factory in Milan, and hundreds of other places. The top-level negotiations concerning the renewal of the contracts between employers and unions were only one set of pretexts among many others. A number of actions and events – in a period that truly didn’t lack them – were eclipsed by others that followed them in an always rising crescendo, and we can be dispassionate about them here because the profound meaning that this class war unwittingly gave itself through its intensive and extensive development became more important than any of its particular episodes, which were only the Roman mile markers along the road that led, always more obviously, to a social revolution.
In the course of our life, we have associated with well-informed people who have written history without getting mixed up in it, and we have had to act in concert with politicians who have constantly and uniquely been involved in the production and prevention of historical events without thinking too much about describing them in writing. We have always observed that the former see general causes everywhere, while the latter – living in the midst of everyday occurrences, which apparently produce each other – gladly represent things in such a way that all the events that serve them well must be attributed to their own personal merits, as if it fell to them exclusively to determine the course of the world, and as if any setback was only the consequence of this or that particular and absolutely unforeseeable event. There are times when both the historians and the manipulators of events are wrong and, if in this epoch one must expect everything, because everything is possible, we must not allow ourselves to be taken by surprise. For example, in the autumn of 1969, which Raffaele Mattioli defined, with the philosophical detachment that was unique to him, as “the lyrical expression of history in action, where no one had the courage to be what he was,” we witnessed the pitiful spectacle of industrialists placing more confidence in the unions than in themselves, and the unions placing their confidence in the concessions that they could obtain from the government, and the government placing its confidence in the efficaciousness of its special services. We were among a small number who knew that the worst that one foresaw was in fact too optimistic, just as today few know that Italy once more finds itself only an hour away from a general insurrection, and that if this has, fortunately, not happened yet, we have to thank the precautions taken by this or that person, and not the interplay of other factors.
The struggles surrounding the contract negotiations obtained notable success on the terrain of salary increases, but it was a pitiful illusion to believe that things would calm down once the new contracts were put into place. As we have already said, from the moment that the workers no longer fought to simply obtain salary increases, it was clear thereafter that, though such increases were constant, we could no longer hope to purchase social peace with them. Such peace risked being no more than a happy memory of past times. In fact, when certain categories of laborers – such as municipal workers – obtained a new contract, they continued their illegal strikes under the pretext of supporting the struggles of workers in the private industries, for whom the negotiations remained suspended. On their part, the unions could not expose themselves to the danger of cutting themselves off from the working masses by disavowing all the strikes that the unions did not want to undertake and had not been able to prevent. On the contrary, they had to accept the existence of those strikes so as to not exclude in advance the possibility of being accepted by them in turn, at a later stage, as the authorized spokesmen for the workers’ demands. To prevent open riots, the union confederations had to find other objectives than salary demands and then try to channel the workers’ protests towards them.
It was in fact one of those objectives, which appeared artificial to the workers themselves, that furnished the occasion to unleash a blatant and obvious insurrection. On 19 November 1969, the unions announced a national day of general strikes over the question of rent. In Milan, this strike, which saw the largest abstention from work in the history of the Republic, degenerated into a riot very quickly. The union leaders [English in original], who made speeches at the Lyric Theatre, were boycotted and insulted by the workers who, abandoning the meeting, severely attacked the forces from the Department of Public Safety, who were forced to withdraw from the entire neighborhood, and then the workers erected barricades in the center of the town.
We have precise memories of this spectacle, because around noon on 19 November we had to cross the via Larga to go to the home of an industrialist (not far from the location of the confrontations), where we were invited to have lunch with several politicians and other people from the economic world. Since it was impossible to find a taxi, we crossed a part of town on foot. We found the majority of the streets to be tranquil and almost deserted, as happens in Milan every Sunday morning in early hours, when the rich are still asleep and the poor are not at work. Here and there, from time to time, a young man – looking more like a suburban salaried worker than a student – tranquilly posted a placard on the façades of the buildings. He offered us several of them, signed by some group of “autonomous workers” or by a “base committee,” and one of those manifestoes surprised us with its gloomy title, which was redolent of the 19th century and went something like this: “Notice to the Proletariat on the Current Occasions for Social Revolution.” Having passed through the obstructions of the police and the demonstrators (not without some difficulty), we finally reached the apartment of our host, who was more upset than usual. The food was magnificent, as was customary, but the table was deserted. Of the half-dozen people invited, only one other person was present, and he was late and wasn’t even the most eagerly expected guest. We sat with a passive air among this useless abundance, and a profound silence descended upon us after I made the simple observation that we live in strange times, in which, as Tocqueville noted in 1848, one can never be sure a revolution won’t break out between the moment when one sits down at the table and when the meal is served.
Telephone calls that relayed the news rendered the expectation of dire events even more unnerving. The news accumulated: a Public Safety officer was killed in front of the Lyric Theatre, and neither the police nor the unions were in a position to control the battlefield, which they had abandoned. All through the afternoon, the telephone line was the only umbilical cord that tied us to the world. The worst fears concerned the situation in Turin, because if the workers in Milan believed that the situation there had also escaped from our control, the chances [English in original] that the riot and the strike would remain limited to that day would have completely evaporated. From Rome we learned that the unions still “held” Turin, and that serious incidents had not been reported there or in Genoa. Several hours later, this information was directly confirmed to us by the union leaders [English in original] who were there. Fortunately, there had been no deaths among the demonstrators, because that was the piece of good fortune that, deep down, the agitators counted on. In the evening, Milan – the workers’ Milan – was discouraged to learn that everywhere else the strike had taken place without incident, but in Rome, and certainly in working class Rome, the events in Milan were perceived in all their seriousness, and they even created more emotion than one could hope for in a capital that is underhandedly insensitive to the impulses of the rest of the country. The city was notified that there was no time to lose, since in Milan neither the unions nor he police had been able to prevent the riot and, even if this riot had, fortunately, been brief, it was only too well known that none of the conditions that caused it had been surmounted, neither in Milan nor anywhere else in Italy. Thus, there was more than good reason to fear that several weeks later, if not sooner, a new riot would turn into a general insurrection.
Instead, three weeks later, on 12 December , bombs exploded at the Piazza Fontana in Milan and in Rome, and in truth we saw the “unforeseeable and traumatic” act of which Nicola Adelfi had written and which so profoundly roiled public opinion in Italy and abroad.
Disoriented and astonished by the number of innocent victims, the workers remained hypnotized by the unexpected event and were led astray by the rumors that followed it – because, confronted by deeds of this type, their spirit is changeable – and, as Tacitus says, “like all multitudes, they were liable to sudden impulses and were now as inclined to pity as they had been extravagant in fury.”
As if by magic, struggles that had been so widespread and so prolonged forgot themselves and ceased.
 Direct quotes or paraphrases from Alexis de Tocqueville, Recollections of the French Revolution of 1848.
 The revolt occurred on 9 April 1969 in response to the closing of a tobacco plant, which was one of the biggest employers in the region.
 A member of the Italian Communist Party, Amendola (1907-1980) favored non-Marxist moderation in the Party’s dealings with the government and the economy.
 Mariano Rumor (1915-1990), a member of the Christian Democratic Party. In 1969, he was the Prime Minister of Italy and, in 1975, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs.
 Salvatore Giuliano had been the leader of the Voluntary Army for the Independence of Sicily. He was murdered in 1950.
 The Annals, Book 4, paragraph 32. Latin in original.
 In September 1974, General Vito Micelli, the head of the Servizio Informazioni Difesa (the Defense Intelligence Service), was arrested and charged with involvement in a failed coup attempted in 1970 by the veteran Fascist Valerio Borghese and Stefano delle Chiaie’s neo-Nazi Avanguardia Nazionale organization. During his subsequent trial, Micelli defended himself by disclosing the existence of a “parallel SID” that had been formed as a result of a secret agreement with the United States within the framework of NATO (i.e. “Operation Gladio”).
 The word employed here, inconsciemment, also means unconsciously and thoughtlessly.
 Raffaele Mattioli (1895-1973) was an Italian economist, banker and business executive.
 Cf. Avviso al proletario italiano sulle possibilita presenti della rivoluzione sociale (“Notice to the Italian Proletariat on the Current Possibilities for Social Revolution”), a tract written and distributed on 19 November 1969 by the Italian section of the Situationist International, of which Gianfranco Sanguinetti himself was a member.
 Cf. the skit by Monty Python’s Flying Circus entitled “Party Hints” (1972), in which “Veronica” gives the following advice.
This week I’m going to tell you what to do if there is an armed Communist uprising near your home when you’re having a party. Well, obviously, it’ll depend how far you’ve got with your party when the signal for Red Revolt is raised. If you’re just having preliminary aperitifs – a Dubonnet, a sherry or a sparkling white wine – then the guests will obviously be in a fairly formal mood and it will be difficult to tell which ones are the Communist agitators. So the thing to do is to get some cloth and some bits of old paper, put them down on the floor and shoot everybody. This will deal with the Red Menace on your own doorstep. If you’re having canapés, as I showed you last week, or an outdoor barbecue, then the thing to do is to set fire to all houses in the street. This will stir up anti-Communist hatred and your neighbors will be right with you as you organize counter-revolutionary terror. So you see, if you act promptly enough, any Left-wing uprising can be dealt with by the end of the party.
 The Annals, Book 1, Paragraph 69. Latin in original.