Women in armed struggle
The second in what will be a series of translations of texts from communist and anarchist struggles in the Italian Long 1970s. (The text is below the break for those who want to skip my introductory comments on the period. However, one initial prefatory note is needed: the text is pretty explicit regarding violence, medical and sexual, perpetuated against women. The title should make that clear, but given differing reader reactions to that material, it seems important to give some advanced warning.)
Why designate the “Long ‘70s”? To think through this period, I’d venture that it makes sense less as a chronologically bounded decade than as an elaborate, and elaborated, complex of fundamental problems, ones approached and extended through what was one of the most – if not the most – sustained attacks on the social relations of capital and state in the post-war global north. (This isn’t to romanticize ‘77 as “really close to taking down the whole ship,” simply to say that the particular combination and severity of mass movement, class violence, and rigorous analysis across more than 15 years has few parallels in the second half on the 20th century.) Thinking of the decade this way isn’t a preference or an effort to complicate matters for the terminological hell of it. Rather, it’s an effort to be adequate to the nature of the historical and social critiques posed – with words and barricades alike – throughout those years that that cut to the nasty heart of the matter (even if they couldn’t cut that heart out, let alone give it a proper bypass): namely, the reproduction of an order as such, including, on one hand, the continuation of labor, gender, and state, and, on the other, the spatial crystallization of this stuck repetition. My larger work on this material, which finds its way in through the films of the period, considers itself along those two lines: a critique of production and reproduction, and a critique of the Metropolis. The former treats primarily a specific film of Elio Petri, the latter a rash of low-budget cop films.
More concretely, by Long ‘70s, I mean a span of years that runs roughly from ‘62 – with the Lancia, Michelin, and Fiat strikes – until ‘79, when what remained of a mass struggle that had built, unevenly, since anti-Fascist partisan resistance, came fully undone, both at its own hands and at those of a State that had directly coordinated much of the violence it sought perennially to pin on the far left. But aside from the utility of those dates, I don’t primarily understand this period as a wave or a cycle, one that could be bound to organicist metaphors of “vital crises”/decadence around which so much of Italian political and cultural historiography turns. I think it instead as an extended field of negation, one circling around and cursed by the problem of incomplete negation: that which has been negated but not destroyed, and hence remains statically operative and incontestable all the more in its decoupling from historical source and substance. In this context, such produces the difficult crux of operaismo: how does the working class build up its own force to the point where it can negate itself as class? Does that building up (its “generalization” as it was often termed) potentially thicken the form of what it tries to undo? Class: can’t negate with it, can’t negate without it.
(This problem of incomplete negation, or what I think of as the pseudo, is one also picked up by Italian architectural historians-theorists Manfredo Tafuri and Massimo Cacciari, and more broadly in the circle of writers around the journal Contropiano. The negative becomes not a threat to the plan of capital but rather, first, its shock-troops (via the historical avant-gardes) and, second, the requisite condition for perpetual dissolution of prior social identities and labor formations. As such, it is the Metropolis – the “intrinsic negativity of the large city” (Tafuri) – which is the proper ground and encrustration of such a static negativity. It comes to determine, in a very real way, the built landscape of this whole long decade, particularly in the necessity of an urban plan so as to have its exceptions, an operative negation that makes possible the staggering rash of “abusive” construction from the mid-’60s on.)
Of course, though, as a number of the texts I’ll translate and try to give some background to will indicate, many of the most powerful critiques were those that did not primarily fixate on what was classically understood within the parameters of class struggle. These involve necessary work on migration, both internal (the flood of Southern Italian workers to the north) and “external” (the workers from ex-Italian colonies and elsewhere who shared those same hellish peripheral borgate and squatted palazzi). They involve critiques of urbanism, planning, and culture, mass and minor.
And, above all, a critique of gender relations, primarily through the material fact of unpaid “women’s work.” As should be obvious, this critique far exceeded the limits imposed on it (including the standard “we’ll get to those issues when we finish with class!”) to venture lines of thought that carried within them the genuine threat – in the best way – of dismantling an entire analytical framework and social order. It’s no surprised that such a threat would be continually disarmed, including by those supposedly standing on the same side of a war against capitalism.
This specific text is from Padova, January 1975, a communique from the “Comitato Triveneto per il S.L.D.”. (S.L.D. means Salario al Lavoro Domestico, or “salary for domestic labor.” This particular committee is linked to the Coordinamento Nazionale dei Comitati per il Salario al Lavoro Domestico, a federated structure that emerged from the split of Lotta Femminista in October ‘74 over “differing analyses and political practices.”)
“Women in armed struggle”
The presence of women involved in the armed aspect of political struggle has surprised the State. The same State that, to guarantee maximum profits for itself and its bosses, has protracted up to now – with obscene indifference – the “massacre of the innocents” [See endnote about this phrase] while continuing to exercise a terroristic command over our uteruses, as over our arms.
Generally, we were condemned to die on the same kitchen tables where we laid out the majority of our free labor, or, with a knitting needle stuck in our uterus, we bled out on those same beds where we procreated and appeased male sexuality. Generally, we could weep over sons and husbands exterminated in war or used up in the factory or sold off abroad for a cheap price. Generally, we could go mad with pain during birth, “assisted” by sadistic doctors, we could be raped and beaten, assured that the “forces of order” would not notice nor would the newspapers consider it relevant news.
Generally, we could, like “workers of the street” (prostitutes), be raped for money while the state collected a percentage.
Who knows why the more women “come closer” to this situation, the more women, refusing “their place,” take a thousand different paths?
The state is astonished.
Men are astonished.
We are astonished that they are astonished.
And now we come to the problem.
Because the rebellion of women always has existed, but just as isolated rebellion isn’t enough, neither is the indistinct “class struggle,” even at more “aggressive” levels,” enough to construct a mass force of women for their own interests.
Because in the class there exists a precise stratification of power that capital has used and will try to continue to use until the bitter end. Fundamentally, the power of the strongest section, salaried men, against the power of the weakest section, women, who work 24 out of 24 hours without a real salary. And it’s precisely this stratification that will be destroyed with struggle, because it represents the biggest weakness of class in its entirety.
Men have always widely used their violence both in the family and outside, to secure their advantage and the fruits of our labor. And in fact, today, the murder, rape, and beating of women increases all the more as the refusal, by women, of work and family discipline itself increases.
If we were to not leave the kitchens, bedrooms, factories, offices, and schools to construct a mass movement, a process of open and declared struggle, starting with the first labor that unites us all and that determines our whole life and, as unpaid labor, our weakness within the class and our subaltern position in regard to levels of class organization, then even today, we will have no claim over our “destiny.”
What seems ridiculous to us, especially in a moment in which feminism sneaks its way into every house, every factory, every office, is the attitude of those who investigate “feminist errors” of one sort or another.
All the same, it’s clear that, of the thousands of significant paths, had several women not chosen specifically the exhausting, open construction of the Feminist Movement, we would have been neither the 10,000 women at Trento nor, just a few months after, the 20,000 women at Rome.
Feminism, as a movement that keeps growing and has evermore the necessity for organization, has just one problem, which is to determine in the sense of giving determination; causing; inflecting the rupture of the fundamental stratification of power within the class, constructing an autonomous power of women towards their own specific interests, which is the only determining force for the power of the class as totality.
The struggle against salaried work is impotent in determining the destruction of the capitalist relation if it isn’t sustained by a mass struggle against unsalaried domestic work.
Until there was a movement of women that had started to speak and to organize for salary for domestic work, the struggle for “guaranteed income” [reddito garantito] didn’t urge or including within itself a struggle over domestic work, even when it spoke of the general organization of the class; in reality, it was only the masculine management of class struggle. A truly masculine management, as if it hadn’t seen the more massive struggle that women have been long conducting, the refusal to become mothers, as if it hadn’t seen the behavior of the mass that engaged in this fight: the refusal of domestic labor. The refusal of domestic labor was and is the refusal that stands behind us at every moment of the struggle of women, because domestic labor is the labor that determines not just the conditions in which we have to accept external labor and services, but the entire quality of our life, our sexuality as procreative function, and the very conditions of procreation.
Therefore, to cite just the latest and most noted example of the women’s struggle at the mass level, even behind the struggle over abortion, there is the struggle over domestic labor, the refusal of domestic labor.
This involves “revealing” this refusal that remains behind every real struggle, in order to extend that refusal.
This involves, from the point of view of feminist autonomy, transforming the mass behavior of the refusal of domestic labor into an organized struggle for the destruction of domestic labor. But only the demand of salary for domestic labor is able to determine this passage. It’s around this demand, then, that organizational effort will concentrate, in the sense of being able to determine a mass mobilization.
Without such mobilization, without this organizational push in which every mobilization for abortion must become at the same time mobilization for a salary for domestic work, we cannot think of establishing higher levels of organization that make sense only if, starting from the interpretation of the interests of women, they come to be sustained by the mass movement of women for their own interests.
The Feminist Movement must interpret, to the very end, the needs expressed by women’s struggle, striving to grasp the fundamental need of liberation from domestic labor that’s expressed by all, if it wants to succeed in giving to those same women a connection destined not merely to last but above all to deepen and grow.
And equally, in the growth of the organizing process it must maintain a feminist autonomy at all the levels of the growth of the organization. It’s no coincidence, we repeat, that the male left has never recognized domestic labor. Men, the direct recipients and controllers of our work who until yesterday hadn’t seen this for what it is, certainly can’t represent for us today any guarantee of our liberation from them.
Objectively, so follows also autonomy at higher levels of the struggle, provided we recognize ourselves in this type of action, if the specificity of interests that this action carries with it corresponds to the interests on which the mass Feminist Movement turns. And in which the times, modes, etc, come to be determined by the Feminist Movement itself.
As one knows, the varied levels of struggle were never “homogeneously programmable” and that was never our intent. In the struggle, to speak of “errors” and of “if it was time” or “if it was not time” has a very relative sense.
Instead it makes sense, because times and modes “accelerated” or “slowed” and belonged to none other than women, that they should be measured by the Movement of women itself. And therefore, even a specific action, because it returns as a new level of force to the Movement, must offer a direction that can be gleaned by women themselves.
Communique from the “Comitato Triveneto per il S.L.D.”, Padova, January 1975
On “massacre of the innocents”: strage degli innocenti, a phrase with an oddly polyvalent usage. The historical reference is to the infanticide ordered by Herod the Great – the slaughter of all young male children in Bethlehem in order to dodge the possibility that one of them would be king of the Jews. The term was picked up by S.L.D. in reference to abortion and their understanding of it as the state-organized violence of capital against the bodies of women. The particularity of their analysis is that while they support the right of women to abortions, they understand abortion as an apparatus of control that rises in importance – and is reflected in supposedly “radical” demands – when civil society proves continually and increasingly incapable of incorporating children into the labor market. As such, to refuse to demonstrate in favor of abortions (see also “Aborto e falsa coscienza”, which I’ll translate shortly) is to refuse that the inadequacy of a social order as whole be placed forever back on the individual bodies of women. On a related note, this is a song from ‘75 [Canzoniere Femminista-gruppo musicale per il salario al lavoro domestico di Padova, Canti di donne in lotta], with my profoundly non-rhyming translation interspersed.
Aborto di Stato
strage di innocenti
sul sangue delle donne
si fanno affari d’oro
[Abortion of State
massacre of innocents
on the blood of women
they conduct affairs of gold]
Aborto di Stato
strage delle innocenti
repressione per tutte
[Abortion of State
massacre of innocents
repression for all
Abortion of State]
A Trento, a Firenze le insultano, le umiliano
a Trento e a Firenze terrore sulle donne
in italia e fuori le trattan da assassine
[In Trento, in Florence they insult them, humiliate them
In Trento, in Florence, terror over women
In Italy and outside they handle them like killers]
Ma noi le conosciamo
siamo tutte noi
tute abbiamo abortito
tutte sappiamo come
[But we know them
all of us
we all have aborted
we all know how]
Nei modi più cruenti
e più pericolosi
con la paura addosso
rischiando la galera
[In the cruelest modes
and the most dangerous
with pressing fear
Ci sbattono in questura ancora addormentate
ancora sanguinanti, è reato e non han pietà
Sadismo, sfruttamento, razzismo e illegalità
[They beat us in the police station while still sleeping
already bloodied, it’s a crime and they don’t have mercy
Sadism, exploitation, racism, and illegality]
Ma che è una cosa sporca
ormai lo sanno tutti
“o è un figlio per lo Stato
o è aborto ed è reato”
[But that’s a dirty thing
By now they all know it
“either a child for the State
or it’s an abortion and a crime”]
Attento lo Stato
troppo a lungo ci ha sfruttato.
[Watch out bosses
we are thousands
Watch out State
for too long you’ve exploited us]
Regarding the continued use of term, strage degli innocenti continues to be used in various contexts, especially in pro-life campaigns. As of this morning, it appeared in a different context, in articles concerning the lethal bombing of a school in Brindisi (apparently the work of Mafia organziations).]