The Relevance of Antonio Negri

to the Anti-Globalization Movement

A few days before the G8 Summit took place in Genoa, Italy, a "clever" editor at The New York Times thought that the protests against the summit would provide a great opportunity to run a feature story about Michael Hardt and Antonio (Toni) Negri. A kind of "odd couple" -- Hardt is young and American, and Negri is older, Italian and currently in jail for offenses supposedly committed in the 1970s -- the two professors are the authors of Empire, a recently published book about globalization. The writer for the Times latched on to the following quote from the book, which no doubt seemed perfectly suited for the occasion.

We see seeds of that future already in the sea of faces that stretches from the streets of Seattle to those of Genoa. One of the most remarkable characteristics of these movements is their diversity: trade unionists together with ecologists together with priests and communists. We are beginning to see emerge a multitude that is not defined by any single identity, but can discover commonality in its multiplicity.

Seattle and Genoa, America and Italy, Hardt and Negri. Bellisimo!

Unfortunately for the readers of the Independent Media Center, the person who dutifully posted the Times article on Hardt & Negri to a couple of IMC web sites -- among them the New York City site and the Italian site -- did so without providing any context or commentary. And so whatever the Times said about Hardt & Negri is now being passed on without any mediation by the IMC. But the problems do not lie in what's being said and left uncontested, but in what's been left completely unsaid.

Let's review what everyone knows or claims to know about Toni Negri (forget about Michael Hardt, sorry). A writer, professor at the University of Padua and Marxist political activist, Negri was arrested on 7 April 1979 and, like over 5,000 other people involved in the Autonomist Workers movement, was accused of "armed insurrection against the powers of the State." To support this absurd and overly broad accusation, Negri's accusers portrayed him as the secret leader of the Red Brigades, the terrorist group that reputedly kidnapped and assassinated Aldo Moro, President of the Christian Democratic Party. After a four-year-long battle, which he waged from a jail cell, Negri was acquitted of all charges and released. When the Italian Chamber of Deputies subsequently voted to send him back to prison, he fled to France, where he lived, taught and prospered as a writer, theorist and author. In absentia, Negri was convicted of re-instated charges under (still in-effect) emergency laws that allow convictions solely based upon the testimony of accused persons who have "repented" their crimes and turned State's evidence. In 1997, in the hope that his action would bring an end to the decades-old deadlock -- more than 150 activists still serving sentences in Italian prisons and another 180 activists still living in self-imposed exile -- Negri returned to Italy and turned himself in. Granted no leniency whatsover, he was sentenced to more than 13 years in prison, a sentence he began serving on 1 July 1997. (For more on Negri, click around in this web site.)

What's missing from the usual biographies of Toni Negri is the charge that it took him far too long to come to the now commonly accepted conclusions that 1) the terrorist campaign inaugurated by the bombing of the Piazza Fontana in Milano on 12 December 1969 wasn't the work of either the far-left (the anarchists) or the far-right (the fascists), but the Italian secret services; and 2) this campaign -- now called "the strategy of tension" -- wasn't undertaken to destabilize or topple the government, but to provide a pretext for its most reactionary elements to strengthen themselves against an increasingly strong and effective working class movement. The situationists came to these conclusions as early as 19 December 1969, when the Italian section of the Situationist International published the extraordinary tract Is the Reichstag Burning? In the following years, as State-sponsored terrorism against targets in Italy became more common and more obvious, Sanguinetti returned to the subject a couple of times: first in The True Report on the Last Chance to Save Capitalism in Italy (published in July 1975 and reprinted many times afterwards), and then again in Remedy to Everything (also known as On Terrorism and the State), which was published in Italy in 1979 and in France in 1980. Relentlessly persecuted by the Italian government for his writings, Sanguinetti was vindicated in 1982, when the so-called P2 scandal brought to light documents that irrefutably proved that the Italian government had indeed been employing "the strategy of tension" since the end of the 1960s and through-out the 1970s.

But Sanguinetti was a lone voice and easily marginalized. Everyone else -- Toni Negri included -- preferred to believe what the State and the media told them about "terrorism": that the bombings and assassinations were perpetrated by extremist groups, and that the Italian State, though it might occasionally infiltrate and provoke such groups, wasn't directly involved in or responsible for their targets and operations. Most importantly, Negri and the rest preferred to believe that, if an ultra-Leftist group such as the Red Brigades was indeed engaging in acts of terrorism, it was committing a grave tactical "error" or making a terrible "mistake," despite its "good intentions" and "revolutionary militancy." Even the Aldo Moro affair (1978) didn't lead Negri to question his basic assumptions about the Red Brigades: i.e., that the group really existed, and that it was misguided in its use of violence.

Negri's refusal to entertain the theses enunciated by Sanguinetti came back to haunt him. "Right then!" the Italian government said in the aftermath of the Aldo Moro affair; "if you are in the position of evaluating the 'errors' and 'mistakes' of the Red Brigades, whose existence you recognize, then you must be their mastermind, the brains behind their operations." Ridiculous, but good enough for the original 7 April 1979 arrest.

In the preface to the french edition of On Terrorism and the State, Sanguinetti marveled at the fact that, even after his arrest, Negri continued to believe that the Red Brigades actually existed, and wasn't really a clandestine group of State-sponsored terrorists.

For instance, not one of these great reasoners on the question of terrorism has formulated this most simple and reasonable of questions: If the ghostly Red Brigades [RBs] were, as is said, a spontaneous grouping of subversives, and if Negri and Piperno were, as is made out, the heads of the RBs, then why should these artful RBs allow their leaders -- who, however, declare that they are not leaders of the RBs -- to be imprisoned without ever seeking their exoneration, even if such an effort was only in order to reclaim them for the revolution? If, on the other hand, Negri and Piperno are not the heads of the RBs, and are not even among the ranks of its militants, then these facts should give all the more reason for the hypothetical subversives of the RBs to help get these men publicly cleared of all charges against them. And this for three good reasons: so as not to let leaders be wrongly attributed to them without protest; so as not to be accused of letting innocent people be condemned in their place; and finally, because the RBs are protected by anonymity and therefore have no fear of clearing those currently accused.

Since, on the contrary, none of this has happened, it must be concluded that the real heads of the RBs have the same desire as our State to make it widely believed that Negri and Piperno are in fact the RBs' leaders. This new convergence of interests between the State and the RBs has nothing fortuitous or extraordinary about it, and can only bemuse the stupid, who do not perceive that the RBs are the State, that is to say, one of its multiple armed appendages.

Neither we nor Sanguinetti propose that Toni Negri was an agent of the Italian State. Instead, we ascribe his incredible difficulty in recognizing the truth about the Red Brigades to stubbornness and stupidity. And he remains a stupid and stubborn man to this day. Note well his vision of "trade unionists together with ecologists together with priests and communists." Communists?! Yes, Negri continues to describe himself as a communist, even though communism has been thoroughly discredited, especially in Italy. But the plain fact of the matter is that the mass demonstrations against globalization (such as those at Seattle and Genoa) were effective precisely because they had nothing whatsoever to do with the usual communist horseshit: political parties, splinter groups, "scientific" theories, charismatic leaders and cults of personality, etc. etc. If people like Toni Negri and organizations such as the World Workers Party are full of praise for the "young people," it is because these cynical hacks are absolutely desperate to keep up and not be left behind. Quite obviously, we should not look to a communist or a book he wrote for genuine insight into today's anti-globalization movement.

But there's more to it than that. There is the danger that, today, we -- the various groups and individuals in the burgeoning anti-globalization movement -- might make mistakes very similar to those Toni Negri made back in the 1970s. In particular, we have to be very careful not to dismiss the claims of those who report that, during the protests against the G8 Summit in Genoa, certain -- several, but not all -- "Black Bloc" groupings were not made up of anarchists, but either Italian police officers or fascist gangs that the Italian police had recruited for the occasion. (It has also been claimed that the Italian police force itself was filled out by recruits from fascist gangs.) These phoney Black Bloc groupings were seen getting out of police vehicles before conducting violent rampages in which they attacked peaceful demonstrators as well as private property, and were seen returning to these same vehicles when they were done. It's been reported that the members of these phoney Black Blocs were overheard speaking German, not Italian, and that they conducted their rampages with impressive efficiency and coordination. Not surprisingly, the Italian police used the "rogue" actions of the phoney Black Blocs as justification for bringing in reinforcements and beating up and arresting everyone in sight -- everyone, that is, except for the members of the phoney Black Blocs.

It is alarming that, in response to these reports, some anarchists and Black Bloc members have become defensive and indignant. On the pages of the IMC network and in a variety of anarchist list-servs, they have ridiculed the truthfulness of these reports and have contemptuously dismissed their authors as "obvious" police spies and propagandists who are simply trying to create divisions within the larger anti-globalization movement. As a counter-argument, these anarchists have simply taken to repeating the obvious truth that "real" Black Blocs would never do the things described in the reports. But the issue here isn't what real Black Blocs do or don't do, nor is it what real Black Blocs do when they have been infiltrated or provoked by the police. The issue doesn't concern real Black Blocs at all! It concerns instead the reappearance of State-sponsored terrorism in Italy: e.g., the replacement of the Red Brigades with "the Black Bloc" (not the various haphazard Black Bloc groupings, mind you, but The Black Bloc, as if it were a single, very organized transnational organization of professional agitators).

Genoa certainly wasn't the first time that the police dressed themselves up in black, went to a mass demonstration against globalization, pretended to be anarchists spoiling for a fight, and provoked a violent "crack-down" on peaceful demonstrators. A similar incident occurred in Barcelona just a few months ago. Because Black Bloc groupings are relatively easy to fake -- all the police or the fascists need are black clothes, things to disguise their faces and a few props -- we can expect that such incidents will become more and more frequent. Already there is talk on the IMC network about the need for "the Black Bloc" to re-evaluate its tactics in light of the shooting death of Carlo Giuliani. Here people come very close to making the same mistake that Toni Negri made in the 1970s: our attention should be on the State and its secret services; if we presume to evaluate the mistakes or errors of "the Black Bloc," we might (more) easily be framed as its masterminds.


31 July 2001

[Note added 30 August 2001: to read about state-sponsored terrorism (bombings of civilian targets by the secret services et al) in contemporary Russia, click here.]

[Note added 3 September 2001: to read confirmation (by the ex-Chief of the Genoa Police) that over 600 neo-nazis were allowed into Genoa so that they could infiltrate and simulate Black Bloc groups, click here.]

[Note added 17 December 2001: to read our comments concerning the events of 11 September 2001 and their relevance to this discussion, click here.]

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