The Red Brigade and the Recuperation of Autonomia

ImageThe following is an excerpt from Tiqqun’s This is Not a Program wherein they describe the tension between the two leading manifestations of struggle that played central roles during the Italian Autonomist movement of the 1970s: that of structured, hierarchical resistance driven by the ideology of classical politics, and the informal post-leftist forms of struggle. This is relevant to our aim of identifying the limitations of classical politics and the role they play in recuperating the efforts of subversive momentum and reversing the elements of active cultural dissolution in the past. Any form of resistance wishing to prevent the reproduction of domination would benefit from avoiding the pitfalls of organizational methods that replicate the functions of the State. 

In 1970s Italy two subversive strategies coexisted: that of militant organizations and that of Autonomia. This is an oversimplification. It is obvious, for exam­ple, that in the sole case of the BR [Red Brigade], one can distinguish between the “first BR,” those of Curcio and Franceschini-who were “invisible to power, but present for the movement”; who were implanted in factories where they kept the loudmouth bosses quiet, kneecapped scabs, burned cars, kidnapped managers; who only wanted to be, in their words, “the highest point of the movement” -and those of Moretti, more distinctly Stalinist, who went com­pletely, professionally, underground, and who, having become invisible to the movement as much as to themselves, launched an “attack on the heart of the state” on the abstract stage of classical politics and ended up just as cut off from any ethical reality. It would therefore be possible to argue that the most famous of the BR’s actions, Moro’s kidnapping, his incarceration in a “prison of the people,” where he was judged by a “proletarian court,” so perfectly imi­tated the procedures of the state not to be, already, the exploit of a degenerate militarized BR, which was no longer what it once was, no longer looked any­ thing like the first BR. If we forget these potential subtleties, we see that there is a strategic axiom com­mon to the BR, the RAF, the NAP, Prima Linea (PL), and, in fact, to all combatant organizations, and that is to oppose Empire as a subject, a collective, revolu­tionary subject. It entails not only calling for acts of war, but above all forcing its members to eventually go underground and in so doing to sever themselves from the ethical fabric of the Movement, from its life as a war machine. A former PL member, surrounded by calls for his surrender, offered some worthwhile observations:

During the Movement of ’77, the BR understood nothing of what was happening. The ones who had been working as moles for years sud­denly saw thousands of young people doing whatever they wanted. As for Prima Linea, the movement had had influence, but paradoxically nothing remained of it, whereas the BR recuperated the remnants when the movement died out. In fact, the armed groups never knew how to get in synch with the existing movements. They reproduced a kind of alternative mechanism, a kind of silent infil­tration, and finally, a virulent critique. And when the movement disappeared, the disillusioned leaders were gathered up and launched into the heights of Italian politics. [. . .] This was especially the case after Mora. Before, the organization was instead run with this somewhat irrational spirit of transgression of the Movement of ’77. We weren’t modern-day Don Juans, but the prevailing behavior was ‘unautho­rized.’ Then little by little the influence of the BR changed. They had their grand, model romance, the passion between Renato Curcio and Margherita Cagol. [. . . ] With militarism- a certain conception of militarism- life itself is organized as it is in the army. The analogy with the military struck me; this formal camaraderie infused with reassuring optimism which feeds a certain kind of competitiveness: who­ ever told the best joke and kept the troops’ spirits up the best won. With- just as in the army- the gradual elimination of the shy and depressed ones of the group. There is no place for them, because they are immediately considered a weight on the regiment’s morale. It is a typical military deformity: seeking in the exuberant and noisy existence of a gang a form of security that substitutes for an inner life. So, uncon­sciously, you have to marginalize those who might weigh things down with perhaps a morose but no doubt more sincere mood, in any case, a mood that must be a lot closer to what the noisiest must deep down be feeling inside. With a cult of virility as the result (Liberation, October 1 3-14, 1 980).

If we leave aside the profound ill will behind these remarks, the account confirms two mechanisms spe­cific to every political group that is constituted as a subject, as an entity separated from the plane of consistency on which it depends: (1) It takes on all the features of a terrible community. (2) It finds itself projected into the realm of representation, into the sphere of classical politics, which alone shares with it its same degree of separation and spectrality. The subject-subject confrontation with the state necessarily follows, as an abstract rivalry, as the staging of an in vitro civil war; and finally one ends up attributing to the enemy a heart it doesn’t have. One attributes to the enemy precisely that substance which one is on the point of losing.

The other strategy; not of war but of diffuse guerilla warfare, is the defining characteristic of Autonomia. It alone is capable of bringing down Empire. This doesn’t mean curling up into a compact subject in order to confront the state, but disseminating oneself in a multiplicity of foci, like so many rifts in the capitalist whole. Automonia was less a collection of radio stations, bands, weapons, celebrations, riots, and squats, than a certain intensity in the circulation of bodies between all these points. Thus Autonomia didn’t exclude the existence of other organizations within it, even if they held ridiculous neo-Leninist pretentions: each organization found a place within the empty architecture through which- as circum­stances evolved- the flows of the Movement passed. As soon as the Imaginary Party becomes a secessionist ethical fabric the very possibility of instrumentalizing the Movement by way of its organizations, and a fortiori the very possibility of its infiltration, vanishes: rather, the organizations themselves will inevitably be subsumed by the Movement as simple points on its plane of consistency. Unlike combatant organizations, Autonomia was based on indistinction, informality, a semi-secrecy appropriate to conspiratorial practice. War acts were anonymous, that is, signed with fake names, a different one each time, in any case, unat­tributable, soluble in the sea of Autonomia. They were like so many marks etched in the half-light, and as such forming a denser and more formidable offen­sive than the armed propaganda campaigns of combatant organizations. Every act signed itself, claimed responsibility for itself through its particular how, through its specific meaning in situation, allowing one instantly to discern the extreme-right attack, the state massacre of subversive activities. This strategy, although never articulated by Autonomia, is based on the sense that not only is there no longer a revolu­tionary subject, but that it is the non-subject itself that has become revolutionary, that is to say, effective against Empire. By instilling in the cybernetic machine this sort of permanent, daily, endemic con­flict, Autonomia succeeded in making the machine ungovernable. Significantly, Empire’s response to this any enemy [ennemi quelconque] will always be to represent it as a structured, unitary organization, as a subject and, if possible, to turn it into one. “I was speaking with a leader of the Movement; first of all, he rejects the term ‘leader’: they have no leaders. [. . .] The Movement, he says, is an elusive mobility, a ferment of tendencies, of groups and sub-groups, an assemblage of autonomous molecules. [ . . . ] To me, there is indeed a ruling group to the Movement; it is an ‘internal’ group, insubstantial in appearance but in reality perfectly structured. Rome, Bologna, Turin, Naples: there is indeed a concerted strategy. The ruling group remains invisible and public opinion, however well informed, is in no position to judge.” (“The Autonomists’ Paleo-Revolution,” Corriere della Sera, May 21, 1977). No one will be surprised to learn that Empire recently tried the same thing to counter the return of the anti-capitalist offensive, this time targeting the mysterious “Black Blocs.” Although the Black Bloc has never been anything but a protest technique invented by German Autonomists in the 1980s, then improved on by American anar­chists in the early 1990s- a technique, that is, something reappropriable, infectious- Empire has for some time spared no effort dressing it up as a subject in order to turn it into a closed, compact, foreign entity. “According to Genovese magistrates, Black Blocs make up ‘an armed gang’ whose horizontal nonhierarchical structure is composed of independent groups with no single high command, and therefore able to save itself ‘the burden of centralized control,’ but so dynamic that it is capable of ‘developing its own strategies’ and making ‘rapid, collective decisions on a large scale’ while maintaining the autonomy of single movements. This is why it has achieved ‘a political maturity that makes Black Blocs a real force'” (“Black Blocs Are an Armed Gang,” Corriere della Sera, August 11, 2001). Desperately compen­sating for its inability to achieve any kind of ethical depth, Empire constructs for itself the fantasy of an enemy it is capable of destroying.

Tiqqun, Diffuse Guerrilla Warfare


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