Thursday, July 22, 2010

'Libertarian' Used Correctly

"Less World! More Bank!"

I have been reading Phil Edwards' 'More Work! Less Pay!' Rebellion and Repression in Italy, 1972-7 (Manchester University Press, 2009). He occasionally uses the word 'libertarian', for example:
"the group re-emerged within the 'area' as the Collettivi Politici Operai (CPO; 'Workers' Political Collectives'), opening itself to left-libertarian as well as Leninist influences." -- Phil Edwards (p. 69)
and in translating:
"The first, numerically in the majority, is the 'creative' wing, libertarians with radical leanings ... These are the 'small-a' autonomists, who at one time or another fight for a 'better quality of life' ... The second large strand is that of the professors, the intellectuals, the theorists of the message ... The third strand, finally, is that of the 'capital-A' autonomists, or Autonomia operaia organizzata ['Organised Workers' Autonomy']" -- M. Monicelli, L'ultrasinistra in Italia 1968-1978 (1978, Phil Edwards' translation)

Apparently, the custom of street performances at protests emerged from the area of autonomia. Antonio Negri was a member of the CPO. Perhaps activists in Detroit might consider the establishment of social centers (centri sociali) by squatting in abandoned buildings.


Phil said...

Cheers! Are you reviewing the book anywhere? (More about the book here, if you'll excuse the plug.)

I've always thought of myself a libertarian. I haven't found that combining the word with 'left' or even 'Marxist' has caused any confusion until relatively recently, although I guess in Britain I've been relatively sheltered.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I was also surprised by the right-wing appropriation of "libertarian" when I first came across it (nearly 20 years ago now). It started in America in the 1950s, a mere 100 years after the left started using it.

It is amazing how, in America, the word has totally changed its meaning in a few decades. I hope we can keep that change stay in America and, eventually, win the word back for the left there.

An Anarchist FAQ

Robert Vienneau said...

Thanks for the comments.

Phil, I haven't reviewed the book, and I probably won't do one here. I find your presentation of your thesis, that there was a second cycle of contention in Italy in the 1970s convincing, but I don't think I really know enough to judge. After reading Empire, I read Antonio Negri's Marx beyond Marx: Lessons on the Grundrisse. This was based on lectures in Paris while Negri was in exile. I learned a lot about the background of why he was in exile from your book. One minor thing I would have liked to see more of: arguments about the seperation of the violent left groups from the more peaceful (albeit forceful) groups.

Phil said...

Robert - it's a complicated and murky story. I think the key point is that, as part of the crackdown on the 'terrorists', the movements were simultaneously being pressurised to dissociate from the armed struggle groups and being labelled as terrorist themselves. Under that kind of pressure, the fact that many (most?) activists felt uncomfortable about the "militarisation" of the movement took second place - resistance to the crackdown and solidarity with those affected by it seemed more urgent. But it's certainly true that - while hardly anyone was actually committed to non-violence - the organised violence of the armed struggle groups was a very divisive factor.