Apart from the Obvious Exceptions

Interview with
Radio Onda Rossa

A Few Considerations by a Frequenter of the Courts

Introductory note

The appeal trial in Rome in which anarchists were accused of belonging to a clandestine armed organisation has concluded with higher sentences than those meted out on the previous occasion. That was in the logic of things.
In my case I was sentenced to six years, i.e. an increase of two and a half years for a robbery in Rome which, needless to say, I know nothing about.
If on the one hand the fact that there was no sentence for ‘armed organisation’ or ‘terrorism’ – to use the terms of the law – can be considered a defeat for the dogged zeal of general prosecutor Marini, the above-mentioned personage has every reason to feel pleased concerning the diatribes that this trial has led to within the anarchist movement.
There was the odd proposal of the comrades who wanted to turn the trial into a ‘guerrilla action’ at any cost, copying the behaviour of a far off past with no revolutionary foundation other than clandestine movements which through the ‘public’ moment wanted to make ‘propaganda’ for their quantitative structure and their own theses. This proposal was quite out of this world and foreseeably ran aground immediately.
There was also another absolutely unfounded point of controversy. Nevertheless it existed in the minds of many comrades in good faith to such an extent as to create an insuperable obstacle between the latter and those who were of the opposite opinion. This consisted of taking a position against the court, insisting that it is better to have nothing to do with it, to the point of not even naming a lawyer.
As I have always maintained, and in the present collection there is an article that I wrote in 1991 which seems to me to be fairly clear on this subject, it is not by taking up one’s defence (when there are good reasons to believe that this will reduce the damage to some extent) that one legitimises the court. On the contrary, the court is legitimised precisely by imposing a ‘guerrilla on trial’ attitude, i.e. by reading out a declaration in court that it will never take into account, or seeing the charges and sentence in the role of ‘political prisoner’. Here too it is a question of aberrations that some – as far as we know – have been able to think but only in their own personal interest and without any foundation in reality.
Of course, it is not always possible to ‘defend’ oneself in court. When one finds oneself in a situation where there is no possible defence then better to lose interest completely, even to the point of not turning up to the court. But that was never the case in this trial. And nearly all the comrades (sentenced or otherwise), including those who had initially refused to name a legal representative, turned up regularly in court alongside their defence lawyers.
However, arguments and misunderstanding aside and ignoring the instrumental use that some made of positions that were contrary to their own, one lesson can be drawn from this experience. Apparently linear and coherent theoretical rarefactions such as that of refusing to have anything to do with the court simply turn out to be effective instruments for setting comrades one against the other. And as a result that’s not bad.
Apart from the obvious exceptions, the situation does not seem very clear.
Each one thinks they understand it perfectly—each has made up their mind and that’s that!—And they look on others with suspicion, the suspicion typical of those who are convinced they are right. Each fails to understand why the other thinks differently, given that we should all be gathered under the aegis of an anarchism that is revealing itself, it seems, to be too insubstantial to provide a solid basis for making a stand.
I get this sensation when I read letters and newspaper articles, receive notes and verbal communications.
Perhaps these pages will spur some reflection among comrades. Perhaps they will merely receive a superficial reading, or perhaps, which is worse, they will not fail to be taken for what they are, something written by me and as such no different from what everyone expects, precisely, something written by me.
Apart from the obvious exceptions of course.
Dream and reality
The world is in ferment everywhere, and our ideas are also present in this cauldron, the theories, fantasies, illusions and dreams we have been embracing for years. For years we have all been intent on going into the theory and practice of insurrection and we have also realised concrete attempts, not least our presence in Comiso in 1982 and 1983 (but one could also call to mind earlier or later examples).
Now the world is simmering with insurrectional deeds, and these are present before everyone’s eyes, there is no need to relate them here.
For years we have been discussing affinity and how to relate to each other in tiny groups based on reciprocal knowledge (affinity rooted in the past) and on common projectuality (affinity based on hopes for the future). We have also discussed how to intervene in struggles with informal organisations and base nuclei capable of connecting our anarchist insurrectional action to people´s need to solve certain problems and so withstand the immediate effects of repression as far as possible.
I am not interested in going over these problems here yet again, but the legacy of hundreds of hours dedicated to discussing them in debates, ‘three days’, conferences, and thousands of pages in pamphlets, books and papers still remain, traces of a way of operating that surely cannot have disappeared completely.
Apart from the obvious exceptions.

Two little judges in the vicinity of Rome
Two well dressed little men, frequenters of the Courts of Rome by profession, have decided to arrest a few dozen comrades and incriminate as many more, using all the charges in the penal code topped off with the great find of an anarchist ‘armed clandestine organisation’.
In itself the initiative is nothing new, so it was not a surprise to us. At least as far as I am concerned. The judges are doing their job, the Carabinieri theirs, etc. Taken individually there are among them the worst and the not so bad, progressives and reactionaries, swindlers and upright men. That is not the point.
I do not see why we, anarchists who want to destroy the present world without even the alibi of taking over the means of production (unusable in any case in the state in which they have been reduced by the technology that administers life today), should cry scandal because of the activity of two little men in the vicinity of Rome.
Of course, we are crying scandal about the flippant use of a young girl, about the charges devoid of any logic on which we were arrested, for the invention of a ‘clandestine armed organisation’ which has never existed. And that’s all very well. We have voiced our disapproval, even in moral terms, of this ‘irregular’ behaviour on the part of the little Roman men, but—rhetoric apart—we must admit (and if someone has convinced themselves otherwise it is well that they unconvince themselves as soon as possible) that this behaviour on the part of the Roman gnomes is normal, very normal indeed..
Anarchists scare, not just because of what they do, not just because of their insurrectional activity, but because of their theoretical and practical potential, and the point of reference they might become for the insurgent exploited.
And there are examples of popular insurrection everywhere in the world, too close to home not worry them.
And even if that were not the case? Even if these Roman goblins were only afraid of the word, (hazy recollections gather confusedly in their minds) why consider them wrong? Let’s put it bluntly: anarchists scare power and it is right (for power but also for anarchists) that things are thus.
We are precisely those who could carry the revolt of the excluded to the extreme consequences at any given moment.
Anarchists scare.

A young girl
Recruited by the Carabinieri, a girl just turned twenty is reciting the role of the ‘penitent’ under the protection of a forest of bayonets.
If things weren’t so absolutely ridiculous this would arouse a modicum of compassion.
Poor girl, trapped by a wolf in the guise of a Carabinieri in love, dragged into a mire of choices that were perhaps not her own, choices she has now embraced for good and which she is obliged to follow to the end, on pain of the interruption of her wages and police protection.
I imagine her, this young girl, scared in a corner of the inquisitor’s room, obliged to learn dates and places, facts and movements, tales and deductions, words and theories by heart, all questions that have always been something quite foreign to her.
I cannot manage to see her as anything other than a poor wretch whom dangerous, unscrupulous persons have dragged in, scarring her life for ever.
Farewell my poor girl. You could have become a woman like all the others, a human being. You are and always will be an outcast of that same society that some mad scoundrel invited you to come and defend against the aggressors, against the anarchist barbarians come out from nowhere as far as you were concerned.

The Batrachomyomachy
In the quagmire the frogs stirred up a furious battle against the rats. At first they were not even aware of having begun it. Everything came, let’s say, quite naturally. They gave vent to far off grudges in the slime, the deep slime where ghosts and rancour lie crouching. In the first inkling of the skirmish, the mire bubbled and rancour and ghosts came to the surface.
Now, in themselves frogs are accommodating, affable creatures, they accept debate and opinion within their ranks. They stand and listen, even patiently at times, often exploding in disagreement which is soon placated in the name of a common membership of the world of frogs, which then is nothing other than the great quagmire that extends from the edge of the path to the field.
But when the rats attack, battle is battle. It rouses stern countenances, ensigns and banners, causing them to march with pride, inviting you to take a position.
Come on, little frogs of my heart. How often have we been up to the neck in slime together and come out snow-white like mint creams.

On absence and copping out
That at a certain point some want to dedicate themselves, like Candide and his master Pangloss, to growing potatoes seems quite legitimate to me. What is curious is that when the roar of the earthquake of Lisbon reaches them, they think they are still in the race.
This means having a hierophantic idea of reality, of being supported by one’s guiding star, sacerdos in aeternum. Anarchists eternally, even when growing potatoes in the tiny back garden of their own homes.
For goodness sake, apart from the obvious exceptions.
It ´s nothing (what is spending a bit of time in prison to anarchists?)
Well ? We have been arrested before, many of us, and arrested on charges that carry life sentences. So? It is just one thing among the many others that befall us in the course of our life and death struggle with power.
Prison is a place where anarchists often find themselves locked up when they start to get dangerous. And dangerous they are, because of what they think and what they do.
For what they think, it is obvious. Our thought is absolutely anti-Statist. So what do you expect the State to do? As soon as it can, it prevents us from moving freely in that conditioned, ideal-less society where we might become the spark for a rebellion. Of course, we might also not be all that dangerous, but you never know.
As for what they do. Each anarchist is responsible for all the actions they carry out in their lives, from everyday activities to the often more complex, though not more difficult, ones of the attack on the State and the institutions and people who make it up.
There is no such thing as collective responsibility.
Each anarchist chooses their comrades in struggle, often on the basis of affinity or other theoretical foundations that only they can judge, and proceeds right to the end, even to prison, even to death.
To cry scandal about things that are obvious seems absurd to me.
There can be no doubt that when the behaviour of the State is itself illegal, false, contradictory even in relation to its very laws, everyone, including anarchists, feels repulsion. They feel a sense of disgust, deep distress for the low levels to which man is capable of sinking, in short a kind of moral disgust for everything they see, nothing more.
The State and its servants are all of this as well: deception, ignominy, outrage. We fly higher, carry other perspectives and dreams in our hearts.

The two paths
But we are defending ourselves. Because we are not convinced that the game is over completely, or that the State is winning even this ongoing small battle, and we believe there are still possibilities, even legal technicalities, in our favour.
Apart from the obvious exceptions of course.
We are defending ourselves and counterattacking point by point. Underlining the errors in the logical structure of the whole accusation as well as the individual charges that have been meted out to us.
The castle of theorems devised to have us shut away in prison for years and years has not been very well constructed in fact. The little men in Rome have not been working to the full extent of their capabilities. There are cracks into which we can get. First of all, the crack that could blow up the main accusation, that of ‘armed clandestine organisation’.
This idea is obviously my own and I know that not everyone shares it. Well, I hope I am right, not so much for the pleasure of being able to say so, but because the collapse of this accusation would greatly reduce the possibility of a considerably long prison sentence.
Moreover, given that the theorem of the prosecution is based on some of my writings where I support theses that are absolutely antithetical to any concept of ‘clandestine organisation’, the question touches me personally and I intend to do everything I can to clarify it thoroughly. Of course, I am not sure that I will be able to make myself heard. It might turn out, as many comrades maintain, that there is no room in court for such a defence. Well, I will take note when the time comes. Not before.
My position on this is not shared by many. I am glad so many comrades think differently. Obviously they will decide for themselves as I am deciding for myself.
The two paths are not as different as they seem to me. In fact, if I refuse to explain something to a judge, thinking (quite rightly) that he will probably not understand or even hint that he understands what I am saying, that is not to say that I accept his thesis, nor does it mean that I subscribe to the accusations against me. Indeed, as many comrades point out, the refusal of the prosecution’s thesis is stronger the more rigidly and decidedly one refuses to enter into details before the judge. Well said.
As you can see, the two roads should be parallel for everyone, apart from the obvious exceptions of course.

Two other paths appear, this time more arduous to travel.
They concern the others, the outside world, that world to which we must clearly decide how to relate.
We want others to know, but not everyone has clear ideas about the specific ways of informing them.
Here, to be a little more schematic, we could divide the things that could be done into two paths, two paths which are anything but parallel this time.
The first is the path up into the mountains. It develops the idea of generalised attack in the terms that have been examined many times. But here the game could become difficult and the generalising be delayed. This could lead to the conclusion that one must take on the task of pushing for this generalisation personally, choosing objectives that become increasingly significant and substantial as time goes on, so end up moving away from the generalisation that has always been our aim. Once on top of the mountain we would merely repeat the farcical tragedies of the past to the bitter end.
The second path leads to the plain where everything is easy. It develops the idea of involving the body of opinion that still exists in this country, those more or less willing to espouse all the lost causes of this world including our own, so long as the proposal is made in an opportune way without truculence and without sectarianism. In a word, we would have to present ourselves as the persecuted of the moment, or at least as those who, although desiring to attack the State, have not in fact attacked it and who, innocent, are suffering prison unjustly.
Each path, the one divergent from the other, seems impracticable to me. I believe many comrades will agree with this, apart from the obvious exceptions of course.

In the ford
Remaining in the ford empties our actions of any significance. Either we are capable of finding another direction that is appropriate to our intentions, or we must accept one of the paths mentioned above, the one leading to the top of the highest mountain or that which leads to the plain.
But first we must ask ourselves: can we really come through the ford? Or are we destined to remain prisoners of indecision?
As things stand, one cannot say there seems much hope of going beyond the condition of indecision in which we find ourselves.
The diatribes flying around while we remain stuck in the quagmire are not the sickness, they are a symptom. The same for the organisational exacerbation. One could simply have been clear, reflecting on everything that has been discussed and done over the past five years.
To have been incapable of doing so is indicative of something. A firm decision not to accept discussion? Simple theoretical superficiality? Personal disillusion? Who can say for sure?
No one, apart from the obvious exceptions of course.

Can we get out of the ford?
With great difficulty in the present state of affairs.
As has happened in the past, in different circumstances, we are paying for the theoretical shortcomings and inexactitudes of many of us, as well as the word-mongering whims of those who can only explain the world in their own ghetto slang. We are also paying for the double standards of those who would like their ideas and practice to spread but do not have their heart in it enough to make that happen, so always end up deciding what is to be done themselves, turning out to be incomprehensible to others.
The result is that we do not move. If we set out on a little path in the mountains, as soon as we have gone a few yards we think we have resolved the problem and are scandalised if all the world does not grasp what we are trying to say immediately. Of course, we see the next step and the steep uphill slope but we soon come to a halt because basically we know that path, with its obvious implications of military conflict has never been ours.
Conversely, as soon as we lower ourselves to the level of the plain and take a straightforward path, we begin to regret it. What on earth are we doing? Is it possible that we cannot see anything other than the old model ‘Piazza Fontana = State massacre’ (1969), where the supporting role in defence of the accused anarchists was played by the Communist Party? Of course we see this next step and the path that opens wide before us, but we soon come to a halt because we know that this path with its petty political conflict has never been ours.
Given the obvious exceptions of course, that’s the way things stand.

Bitterness and disillusion
As soon as you show your feelings they cut off your head, old Walt once said. And for many long months I kept this state of mind to myself, reading the news that reached me from outside with an open heart, not with the critical eye I would normally apply to such reading matter.
Why this reluctance? Because I am in prison perhaps? Apart from the obvious exceptions, I think everyone will believe me when I say no.
No, it is not prison that has made me reserved. Not so much with others as with myself. It is precisely the situation as a whole.
Looking back, what has been the use of all the evenings spent together discussing problem after problem? And the public debates, page after page of books, pamphlets, reviews, papers?
I can understand that some might never have been interested in such a quest, but then why wait for this particular situation before putting out their absolutely other ideas? They could have done so earlier, made a contribution, pointed out where one was going wrong, where one had gone astray, run aground.
This is what makes me bitter and disillusioned.

There is only one thing left to do
Obvious exceptions aside, I think that all comrades will agree with me in admitting that our situation can only be faced by attacking.
But what does that mean? What path must we take? And how far along it do we go?
That is the problem. I think each individual should decide as they have always done, choosing their own comrades. There are no set recipes. Apart from the obvious exceptions, no one thinks they hold the winning card. If the affinity that once linked some of us ceases to exist, this could become an unbearable weight.
If the target is a common one: the enemy who oppresses us. If the method is also common: attack, there is no reason why each should not follow their own path to the end.
Without hesitation.
With the obvious exceptions, of course.


The refusal to say a word in reply to police questioning or to defend oneself in court against accusations, which it seems finds wide consensus among anarchist comrades who in one way or another make reference to revolutionary anarchism, merits further going into. Also because, in the ardour of our declarations or rhetorical outbursts, one often runs the risk of saying something out of turn, implying what one does not really think.
To participate in a trial as the accused does not, in my modest opinion, mean to accept the judicial mechanism. Even less does it mean a recognition of State authority as it performs in the exercise of justice and its relative procedures, prison sentences and all the rest. That is not the case, or so it seems to me, otherwise one would certainly have to be considered a cog in the wheel after so many years’ frequentation in the role of accused, investigated, searched, incriminated and all the rest. After dozens and dozens of trials all over Italy, who more than myself would deserve a medal as a frequenter of evil places. Only it doesn’t seem to me that I have made who knows what secret pact with power and compromise, just as the quaint idea that being ‘identified’ or ‘questioned’ means letting oneself be ‘Oedipised’ by the judge had never occurred to me. I must confess to not understanding exactly what this ‘Oedipising’ means but it seems to refer to something obscene, so is necessarily inadvisable for any correct revolutionary.
In that case I must admit to not having been correct over the past twenty years in having subjected myself, putting a brave face on it, to various imprisonments, dozens of raids, over a hundred interrogations of every kind, not to mention the many times I have been stopped and candidly given my name and address, thus collaborating, that is true, with power. Certainly, it is of little importance to say that when, along with Pippo Stasi, I was arrested in Bergamo in 1989 following a robbery we refused (but only for a few hours) to give our names at the police headquarters—for precise reasons and not to be more revolutionary than the revolutionaries—I must admit it wasn’t a pleasant few hours as during the whole time we were systematically beaten according to the inveterate custom in police stations the world over throughout time. Now, I am not taking up the problem of torture here, or implying that it would be sufficient to give one’s name and address in order to avoid it, (as even in that case we would undoubtedly still have been beaten) I am saying that, apart from our very personal and good reasons, it does not seem to me that there exist general ones to suggest the contrary, valid for all times and circumstances. As a rule when I am stopped or arrested I answer such simple questions orderly and calmly, evaluating what I intend to and can say, discarding what I do not want to or cannot. From these first moments of impact, my (consent me) long experience suggests to me to start working out what my line of defence will be without dallying to make quite gratuitous declarations of principle, when it is not the inquisitors themselves to ask questions of a general nature, which obviously one does not refuse to reply to when they concern one’s identity as anarchists and revolutionaries.
Nor do I believe that the decision to face the repressive mechanism on its own ground, i.e. the technical and judicial one of right and the law, means to espouse the bosses’ rights on the basis of which I am investigated, tortured, sentenced, imprisoned, etc. I believe that a revolutionary must struggle in all the fields that he finds himself in at a given moment in the alternating conditions of the clash. If one finds oneself in court, in the role of accused of course and not the judge, one must do everything to defend oneself, not so much out of self respect, and even less for fear of the consequences, but in order to gain the freedom of movement necessary to carry on with one’s own project. In fact, all the attempts made by the State to bring about trials are in the first place aimed precisely at preventively thwarting revolutionary activity, including analysis, relationships, projects, instruments, etc. By arresting, sending to trial, torturing and imprisoning, the State tries to break the revolutionary’s activity as a whole, not just their physical person, and it does this by keeping them away from this activity as long as possible. Defence, with every means, in every field, with the coherence and correctness that only the revolutionary themselves can choose and decide to impose on the enemy, is therefore an obligation. Not so much to oneself, because it would be easy to abandon oneself to the most exclusive refusal, to a superb attitude of distance and indifference, but towards one’s project, the other comrades developing it with you, and the exploited and oppressed who from this project might (or might not, that is another question) draw benefit or liberation.
The glory of the barricades is always the first thing revolutionaries think of when they dream of the destruction of an order based on deceit, rules and codes, laws and regulations. And it is on the barricades that they would like to die, on the first day as happened with the fortunate Ascaso who did not have to face and live through all the sadness of revolutionary activity to find death at the end of the struggle like the unfortunate Durrutti. But this is a desire we can send back to the womb of destiny. It is not up to us to calculate the tragectory of the bullet that might kill us and resolve for us all the problems (and compromises) of a concrete, practical revolutionary struggle, which stomachs us so much as to push us back to undignified and perhaps convenient (or not?) positions of refusal.
In the logic of attack which we obviously share, it does not seem that the strategy of specific actions implies such a choice as that suggested in the above position. The two things are not consequential, they do not contradict each other or make one risk turning out to be incomprehensible to those whom such actions are basically addressed to. Unless one is referring to a chosen condition of clandestinity (not that imposed by particular repressive circumstances) something I do not believe exists in the theoretical intentions of comrades whose analyses I am discussing. And it is important here to me to make another consideration, which in times now remote caused far more arguing than necessary. It seems to me that to theorise the need to refuse, as accused, to have any relations at all with the judicial system, i.e. not only to stand trial but even the initial questioning, is only logical in the outlook of a specific organisation which imposes on its militants that they declare themselves ‘political prisoners’ in the eventuality of their arrest. It would be quite contradictory for an individual who sees change in terms of creating the conditions where they would be the ones sitting in the place of the judge who is judging them today, possibly on the same bench, to take up a defensive position. As we anarchists do not have such problems or projects we do not declare ourselves ‘political prisoners’, but free individuals who are personally responsible for their actions. So I do not see why one cannot go through trial with all the characteristics that the conditions of the clash suggest from time to time.
On the many occasions I have found myself ‘frequenting’ the repressive mechanism, it has always seemed to me to be indispensable to claim my identity as an anarchist, leaving the investigators to do the rest and get on with their jobs. It has also seemed indispensable to face them at the level of reason as far as possible, obtaining defensive spaces that might be to my advantage, acting in such a way as not to give them any advantage apart from the initial move, the indisputable and irreversible one, of my being an anarchist and revolutionary. But, beyond that, nothing else. Beyond that, always deny, even the evidence, Victor Serge wrote many years ago, and it seems like good advice to me.