We first learned of and became interested in this book, published in February 1977 under the title Lettere agli eretici: Epistolario con i dirigenti della nuova sinistra italiana (“Letters to the Heretics: Correspondence with the Leaders of the New Italian Left”), because we had read somewhere that it was written by the former situationist Gianfranco Sanguinetti. But this information turned out to be false. Though Sanguinetti is friends with its real author (who was active in Italy’s para-situationist milieu in the early 1970s), and though the book itself is strongly influenced by Sanguinetti’s Truthful Report on the Last Chances to Save Capitalism in Italy (1975), it was actually written by Pier Franco Ghisleni.
Like the Truthful Report, which was first published under the pseudonym of “Censor,” Ghisleni’s book was originally presented as the work of Enrico Berlinguer, then the Secretary General of the Italian Communist Party (ICP). Following a tradition originally established by Paul of Taurus in his letters to the Corinthians, these eight letters were addressed to eight different people (or organizations) that were “heretics” with respect to the dogmas of the ICP: Marco Panella, a member of the Radical Party; Goffredo Fofi, a Left-wing film critic; Adele Faccio, a radical feminist; Angelo Pezzana, a homosexual-rights activist; an unnamed member of a group that engaged in armed struggle (possibly Renato Curcio, founder of the Red Brigades); Andrea Valcarenghi, an advocate for the use and legalization of drugs; Antonio Negri, a founder of the Workers’ Autonomy group; and the Metropolitan Indians, an environmentally-conscious and amorphous protest group.
Written in a mild but firm tone, these letters did not so much attempt to persuade or dissuade their addressees from continuing their “heresies,” but tried to demonstrate to them that, despite appearances, their respective activities were actually working in tandem with those of the Communists. Their common project: the spread of State power and capitalist valorization into every aspect of human life, all over the entire planet.
Quite obviously, the thing was a fake, a hoax designed to bring ridicule upon everyone involved: not just Berlinguer and the eight people/organizations to which he supposedly wrote these letters, but also the publisher Giulio Einaudi Editore, whose name, format and brand had been plagiarized to put this self-published book before the eyes of the public. Though the Lettere agli eretici did not create the immense scandal that was caused by the Truthful Report, it did create a minor sensation.
Ten years after its original publication, the book was translated into French as Lettres Aux Hérétiques: Correspondance avec les dirigeants de la nouvelle gauche italienne (the name of the translator is unknown) and published by Editions du Rhododendron. For this volume, which includes several clippings from Italian press accounts, Ghisleni wrote a special preface, Avertissement au Lecteur Français (“Notice to the French Reader”).
In November 2012, we translated this book into English, using both the Italian original and its translation into French as our source materials. Because this book is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world (it has never been translated into English before), and because its contents are “distant” from us in both time and space, we have provided as many explanatory footnotes as we thought necessary.
Despite its “distance” from us, Letters to the Heretics is well worth reading. Not only is it (in part) very relevant to today’s world – especially in its critiques of “identity politics,” “politically correct speech,” “green capitalism,” and the official (that is to say, governmental) embrace of the ideology of “change” – but it is also very funny: an extension of the line most notably traced out by Jonathan Swift.