Tuesday, May 01, 2007

May Day Lotta Continua

May Day the International Workers Day and the Struggle Continues (Lotta Continua)
As long as the struggle of the workers against the bourgeoisie and the ruling class continues, as long as all demands are not met, May Day will be the yearly expression of these demands. And, when better days dawn, when the working class of the world has won its deliverance then too humanity will probably celebrate May Day in honor of the bitter struggles and the many sufferings of the past. Rosa Luxemburg 1894
Nigerian workers: still searching for succour

Today, the first day of May, otherwise called Workers Day in Nigeria, no longer has any meaning to many a Nigerian worker. It is doubtful if the workers understand the significance of the day as one set aside to recognize the valour and sacrifice of the creators of the nation’s wealth. The average Nigerian worker does not see any need for the celebration of his contribution to nation building or for his efforts to ensure that the country of his birth becomes prosperous so that he can live an assured life in future. The day to him now provides the opportunity to show the world the level of his impoverishment

FOR some time now, the May Day celebration has become a day for wilful display of anger by Nigerian workers against their employers, both government and private. Nowadays, industrial unions of both the public and organized private sectors look forward to the Workers Day to publicly vent their spleen against the soulless establishments that have grounded the nation’s social machinery that would have ensured and enhanced the quality of life in the nation. As such, the venues of the Day’s celebrations across the country are usually rally grounds where the workers loudly bemoan their pitiful conditions and declaim the nation’s rulers for making the lives of Nigerian workers laborious.

THAT the venues of May Day rally have been turned into agitation ground is an indication of the virtual collapse of the nation’s social structures and the erosion of the lives of the nation’s teeming masses. The Nigerian worker has made a singsong of his pitiable social conditions. He is one of the poorly paid workers (if not the poorest) in the world. There has not been any time his take-home pay has been made adequate by his employer to give him the much needed lifeline. In spite of his resourcefulness, experience and contributions he is hardly able to live from hand to mouth.

BUT as most social scientists like Adam Smith have postulated, the real wealth of any nation is not in the tangible resources like gold, silver or crude oil. The wealth of a nation is not in the quality or arability of its land. The real wealth can only be found in the quality of its human resources. A highly cultivated human resource, in terms of good and quality education, highly enhanced salary package and functional social amenities, will, without doubt, be highly motivated and resourceful and very productive. Conversely, a workforce that is poorly remunerated will only produce a very low yield. In both cases, the society is at the receiving end. In other words, the quality (and lack of it) of any workforce will translate into the prosperity (and otherwise) of that particular society.

THE fact that Nigeria has enjoyed unqualified status among the “scum of the earth” shows the extent to which its people have been degraded and dehumanized. The nation is ranked among the poorest countries of the world in spite of its enormous natural resources; it holds an un-exalted position as one of the most corrupt nations in the world and as one of the most looted nations, looted and raped by its own citizens. What all this shows is that the nation has not invested adequately in its human resources and this has made it possible for the emergence of the uncouth and rogue leaders who raped and looted the nation’s essence and still got away with their crimes. The failure to cultivate good citizenship has made possible the collapse of the nation’s economic and social structures and led to the creation of criminals in both low and high places. The result of this is the present collapse of the nation’s social structures.

And in an ironic twist of fate the original Lotta Continua in Italy were the subject of a political witch hunt in the Seventies and Eighties. Like the Strega of Old.


Italy has always had a particularly active political Left and in the late '60s and early '70s an extraparliamentary faction that descended into propagandist violence. In the so-called Hot Autumn of 1969, a bomb exploded in the Agricultural Bank in Milan, killing 16 people. An anarchist railway man, Giuseppe Pinelli, was taken in for questioning by the police. Three days later, Pinelli (immortalized in Dario Fo's play The Accidental Death of an Anarchist) fell to his death from the window of the police commissioner Luigi Calabresi's office. The police claimed suicide but the Left accused them of murder. In 1972 Calabresi was shot dead in front of his home. The far-left Lotta Continua claimed it was an act of proletarian justice but many think right-wing extremists were involved. After almost 16 years of silence, an ex-militant of Lotta, riven with guilt, gave himself up, claiming responsibility for the murder. Leonardo Marino then implicated the leadership of Lotta in the affair.

Carlo Ginzburg, a noted and respected historian, draws on his work on witchcraft trials in the 16th and 17th centuries to dissect the state's case in this late-20th-century show trial. He has written a provocative and passionate book that casts a detailed look at the facts of the case, facts that when presented here cast serious doubt on the judgments reached in Italy early in 1999.

Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a Late-Twentieth-Century Miscarriage of Justice. Translated by Antony Shugaar. New York: Verso, 1999. There is a sort of general democratic interest in showing how a concrete trial functions. --Carlo Ginzburg, Liberation (October 9, 1997) Social conflict in Italy during the late 1960s and early 1970s had a particular breadth and impact. Radical-left movements like Lotta Continua championed factory occupations and large demonstrations and saw the Communist Party and labor unions as stifling the workers' revolutionary project. ^1 Elements within the state responded with "the strategy of tension": exceptional police brutality and an instrumental approach to extreme-right violence (the cause of more deaths than extreme-left violence), often carried out sub rosa in conjunction with state secret services and intended by some to destabilize the state and create the basis for an authoritarian regime. In the mid-1970s, Italy promulgated a series of exceptional laws that bolstered police powers at the expense of individual rights and gave a special place to informers; increased the time an individual could be held in preventive detention; and made individuals of the same group liable for the same sentence despite differences in individuals' actions. ^2 Faced with declining expectations for revolution, factions [End Page 135] of the extreme left turned to vanguard party terrorism.

Ginzburg regards the convictions in the Calabresi case as the 20th century equivalent of the witchcraft and heresy convictions under the Inquisition. The contemporary Italian courts, he says, cared just as little for the evidence as the 16th and 17th century Catholic ones: Suspects could affirm their crimes, deny all or remain silent, and all these possible responses were regarded as evidence of their guilt. The Calabresi judges ended up believing the informer, Leonardo Marino, despite the dozens of problems Ginzburg cites with his story, any one of which, he says, should have created more than the shadow of a doubt and led to acquittal.

Ginzburg, a specialist in probing sixteenth-century inquisitorial records and
writing micro histories of the victims, uses court documents to scrutinise the
notorious May 1990 conviction of his friend of thirty years, the journalist Adriano
Founder and leader of the radical left-wing group Lotta Continua from the
1960s until its dissolution in 1976, Sofri, along with his two co-defendants, was
pronounced guilty of the 17 May 1972 murder of the police superintendent Luigi
Calabresi, widely believed to be responsible for the death under interrogation of an
accused suspect three years earlier. Almost the entire case against Sofri rested on the testimony of one former Lotta Continua militant, Leonardo Marino. After a second career as an armed robber, Marino confessed in 1987 to a parish priest and in 1988 to three carabinieri offices his role as the driver in Calabresi’s assassination; he also named his former Lotta comrade Ovidio Bompressi as the murderer and two others, Sofri and Giorgio Pietrostafani, as the authors of the deed (pp. 8–11). Despite his long-delayed declaration of guilt as well as important errors and inconsistencies in his testimony, Marino’s accusations were never seriously challenged.

Ginzburg, although a renowned investigator of non-elites under pressure from
forces from above, was uninterested in Marino or his astrologer companion Antonia Bistolfi. While deftly demolishing Marino’s testimony, Ginzburg neglected to examine the bases of the ex-thief’s repentance, which had so powerful an impact
on the court.

Instead, Ginzburg’s main subject is the presiding judge Antonio Lombardi, who
‘with a clear conscience’ and ‘absolutely no doubt’ pronounced the ‘complete
reliability [of] Marino’s statements’ (p. 103). Although acknowledging that historians and judges share the practice of contextualising their evidence, Ginzburg demands a far higher threshold of proof from the figure handing out sentences and berates Lombardi for his reckless and illogical leap in validating Marino’s questionable story and condemning Sofri (pp. 110–18).

Unlike the Papon trial, where prominent historians gave contrasting views of the Vichy past, the Sofri trial was dominated by the judge’s and the prosecutor’s shared trauma of a decade of violence. Thus, The suspect, a railway worker named Giuseppe Pinelli, either fell, jumped or was pushed out the window of Calabresi’s office while under questioning about the bomb blast on 12 Dec. 1969 in the Banca dell’Agricoltura in Milan that had killed seventeen people and injured eighty-eight others. The subsequent official investigation showed that right-wing extremists, aided by the Italian secret services, had set the bomb.

Donald Reid, ‘The Historian and the Judges’, Radical History Review 80 (Spring 2001), p. 144, n. 4. Lotta Continua immediately denounced Calabresi for the murder; the incident was the subject of Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo’s play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Marino gave the wrong color of the stolen car and incorrectly described the assassination route (pp. 22–5, 72–97). ‘I do not know what pushed Marino to lie. The psychological motivations . . . seem . . . wholly irrelevant.’ (p. 97). according to Ginzburg, much like the earlier inquisitors, they were all too ready to accept even the most defective confirmatory evidence.

To be sure, in writing as an advocate for the defence Carlo Ginzburg appears
to have suspended his own critical judgement. Not only are most witnesses in
criminal trials unreliable, forgetful and self-contradictory, particularly sixteen years after the event, but also key evidence is often missing.25 Nonetheless, The Judge and the Historian is itself an important historical document. Underlying Ginzburg’s approach is a spirited defence of old-fashioned historical inquiry against the postmodern challenge, as well as a strong assertion of the existence of proof and of truth (pp. 16–17).26 Moreover, a century after another flawed trial, Ginzburg’s J’accuse not only demonstrates how those in power continue to rewrite history (in this case holding Lotta Continua responsible for ‘the years of lead’) but also suggests disquieting links with Italy’s Fascist past (pp. 119–20)

A H/T to Terry Glavin

Also See:

May Week in Redmonton

Tax Time and Walpurgisnacht

The Origins and Traditions of May Day

Anarchist Mayor of Milan

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