Italian anarchists on the extradition of Cesare Battisti

The former armed strugglist, active in the 1970s as part of an autonomist Marxist cell, was recently captured and flown to Italy from Bolivia after 38 years on the run.

Battisti originally fled to France in 1981 having been sentenced to 12 years for membership in the banned Armed Proletarians for Communism group and, controversially, for the killings of four people in his homeland of Italy. His sentence was subsequently increased to life, and in 2002 he moved to Brazil as the threat of extradition from France had increased.

He was jailed there in 2007 but saved from extradition by then-president Lula, before later president Temer signed an order reversing that decision last year. Battisti was finally arrested in Bolivia on January 12th with aid from current far-right Brazilian President Bolsonaro and extradited the next day. Massimo Varengo, from anarchist magazine Umanita Nova, considers the implications.

The past that does not pass and the security emergency

What is different in today’s Italy compared to the immediate post-war period? In the late 1940s the then-minister of justice, communist Palmiro Togliatti, could afford to offer a general amnesty to fascist criminals. Today by contrast we continue to keep open and re-open in great style, after almost 40 years, the pages of the Years of lead, an insurrectionary period of attempted social revolution and reaction.

Aftermath of the bombing at the Bologna railway station in August 1980 

These are questions that arise following the news that Bolivia, led by “champion of the anti-imperialist left” Evo Morales, decided to promptly meet an extradition request for Battisti made by the Italian State, a collar conducted in person by agents of the Italian police. 

Already years ago first the story of Adriano Sofri, then those of exiles extradited from Algeria and Nicaragua, had highlighted the persecutory will of the State apparatus in pursuing crimes related to armed political insurgency in the 1970s and ’80s. Now the story of Battisti reconfirms and reinforces a line of attack which has no end in sight.

It seems quite clear that the Italian political situation, in its institutional set-ups, is still a long way from reaching such a degree of stabilisation as to feel it can afford to close that book. Not so much because there are any Red Brigade emulators around as for the use that we continue to make of those days for the purposes of political struggle, and the containment of growing social unhappiness. 

These events are of no surprise in a country where Air Force top brass took 24 years to reach the conclusion that the Ustica massacre [the destruction of Itavia Flight 870 in 1980, which saw four generals charged with high treason for obstruction] had been perpetrated by some “loyal” ally without indicating who. For a country that after 35 years has only been able to identify in general that fascists of New Order were responsible for the bombing of Piazza Fontana in 1969. In a country that has never wanted to go deep into events defined as obscure (but very clear for those who have eyes to see) like those of Salvatore Giuliano, Roberto Calvi or Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa. For a country like that — one conquered by the mafia, of international powers, of secret services — the events of those years remain a precious mine from which to draw poisons, to threaten retaliation, to intimidate opponents.

An amnesty for the years of lead would also entail an admission — that in those years there was a widespread movement aimed at the revolutionary subversion of the dominant power structures. One which the State was so vehemently against in all its components, that it passed emergency legislation affecting the very foundations of Italy’s constitution and so-called legal civilisation. 

That legislation, enthusiastically supported by the Communist Party of Enrico Berlinguer and the Historic Compromise, applied by those “red robes” which established the great trials against so-called terrorism which pulled in so many members of social movements over those years. The people who wrote and approved such infamous laws never found the courage to reach this historic stage.

Enrico Berlinguer, 1970s 

And if on the left there is no such courage, as we think, to admit the truth of the Years of Lead, can there at least be some intellectual honesty about the right-wing colored (yellow? green? blue?) State that continues to shake the red cloth of the fight against terrorism, always and in any case, as a weapon of dissuasion and repression against every possible movement of protest and struggle?

If the fight (including the armed one) of those years was only an expression of crime, there can be no political metabolization but only revenge and summary justice, enhanced with video footage, truculent statements, waiting to shake down the leadership as Northern League members have well known how to do since the golden age of Kickback City and well before the emergence of their “captain” Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. A process in which Justice Minister Alfonso Bonafede is proving to move ever more sure-handedly — on the other hand he did not wear the police jacket too?

But if after November’s “security decree,” the new hunt for immigrants, the criminalisation of NGOs, they still feel the need to pull up stories from 40 years ago as if it were yesterday, and threaten people worldwide who had escaped emergency law crackdowns condemning them to dozens of years in jail, often not for committing crimes but for being simple supporters, a doubt comes to us. Is not that we are facing yet another mass distraction operation? Are they not trying to exorcise the fear of being confronted with a protest movement fed up with failures and bombastic promises?

What is certain is that in the wake of a false security emergency police control is strengthening, and the force is equipping itself with increasingly effective weapons to control both settlers and migrants. On the other hand, with Fortress Europe facing out, and a quarrelsome body politic on the inside, in a context of war, both external and internal, one can not be surprised that the repressive element dilates one’s own competences. Rather it is on the critical conscience of this continent, its secular and progressive element, social movements, not to be overwhelmed by the security hysteria, and to dissolve these ghosts of the past.

~ Massimo Varengo


This article first appeared at Umanita Nova. It is an edited machine translation and may include errors, please let us know if you spot any!