Radical media, politics and culture.

Wu Ming; Tute Bianche - The Practical Side of Myth Making...

hydrarchist writes: "

It has become a trivial remark, even a ridiculous one, indeed, it is being
made by all and sundry: in the aftermath of the demolition of the WTC and
the imperial war on Afghanistan, with the amount of "collateral damages"
increasing out of sight, we all have entered a new phase of social life and
This phase is heavily affected by paranoia, war propaganda, will to
censorship, restriction of such civil rights as free speech, re-embellished
mcCarthysm and angry mobs demanding new *berufsverboten* in the sinister
light of the rhetoric on the "clash of civilizations".
Back to the home front. Another Cold War. The Empire asks for it.

However, the events of September 11th have "only" made more apparent and
explicit the fact that after Genoa we had entered a *catastrophic* realm
By "catastrophe" I don't mean the end of the world, but a new topology, a
space created by an abrupt discontinuity.
The threshold was in via Tolemaide on July 20th. There we experienced a
sudden displacement. Less than two months later we experienced a second
one, like a "fold-in" and "cut-up" of public space. This forced us to
re-think our approach.
Such a discussion is still going on and there's no rabbit in our hats. All
I can say is that none of the phenomena I am going to describe exists
anymore, at least not in Italy and certainly not in its original
As a matter of fact, the only white overalls one sees on TV or on the
papers these days are related to anthrax and biological warfare.
On the other hand, we are not starting over: there can be no doubt that the
multitudes of people who have challenged global capitalism all around the
planet are still willing to do it. On last sunday, more than 200,000
thousands people demonstrated in Perugia, Italy, against the US bombings of
Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of people did the same here in Germany. The
more "collateral damage" the Empire causes on Afghanistan, the less people
are willing to accept excuses.
I know, it is harder than ever, but only fools thought it would be easy.

People who are not aware of the peculiar use we the Italian movement have
been doing of such words as "myth" and "myth-making" may suspect that this
is a mere revival of Georges Sorel's thought and his
descriptions of the revolutionary syndicalists' "general strike".
As a matter of fact we have tried to keep all that was useful in Sorel's
discourse, all the while getting rid of the most out-dated and dangerous

According to Sorel, the general strike was an image that allowed
proletarians to "always picture their coming action as a battle in which
their cause is certain to triumph". Such image, or rather such
group of images, was not to be analyzed "in the way that we analyze a thing
into its elements", indeed, it must be "taken as a whole" as an historical
force", with no comparison "between accomplished fact and
the picture people [have] formed for themselves before action" (Letter to
Daniel Halevy, 1908). In plain words, the social myth of the general strike
was "capable of evoking instinctively all the feelings which
correspond to the different manifestations of the war undertaken by
Socialism against modern society". The general strike grouped all those
feelings "in a co-ordinated picture, and, by bringing them together,
[gave] to each one of them its maximum of intensity [...] We thus obtain
that intuition of Socialism which language cannot give us with perfect
clearness - and we obtain it as a whole, perceived instantaneously" (The
Proletarian Strike, 1905).

Sorel put his discourse in the context of a traditionally heroic,
self-sacrificial, moralistic *weltanschauung* which we had better stay away
from: of course "accomplished facts" (i.e. the struggle for food, housing,
health and dignity here and now, not only after the revolution) were very
important for the proletarians.
And yet it is true that people do not keep on fighting the present state of
things if they are not inspired by some sort of *narrative*.

In the past decades revolutionaries have bounced from alienating
"iconophilia" and subalternity to myths (e.g. the cult of Che Guevara as a
Christ-like figure) to an iconoclastic attitude which
did all but helping people to understand the nature of conflicts. Think of
the superficially "post-situationist" stance of many anarchists, according
to whom any concrete achievement on the ground of democracy or any
penetration of popular culture is "recuperated" and ends up strengthening
the so-called "spectacle".
As an Italian idiom goes, while getting rid of the bath water we shouldn't
throw away the baby too.

In an interview conducted with some members of the *Cahiers du Cinema* in
1974, Michel Foucault made a very clear distinction between the baby and
the water. He said:
"Beneath the sentence 'There are no heroes' is hidden a different meaning,
its true message: 'there was no struggle' [...] Can you make a film about a
struggle without going through the traditional process of creating heroes?
It's a new form of an old problem."

In Italy, since the early and mid-1990's a whole bunch of comrades have
focused their attention on an even newer form of that old problem. They
committed themselves to a practical exploration of mythologies, in order to
understand whether a non-alienating, libertarian deconstruction, re-use and
manipulation of myths was possible or not.
The sources of inspiration were ancient legends regarding folk heroes, the
language adopted by the EZLN, genre cinema and western pop culture in
general, as well as the manifold experiences of media pranksters and
communication guerrillas since the 1920's.
I was completely wrapped up in such experimentation, since I was a founder
and member of the so-called Luther Blissett Project, perhaps the hardest
working firm of "cultural engineers" devoted to the
"Luther Blissett" was a multi-use pseudonym which could be adopted by
anyone interested in constructing the subversive reputation of an imaginary
Robin Hood-like character, allegedly the virtual leader of an open
community thriving on media scams, myth-making, subversive writings,
radical performance art and culture jamming. The LBP started in 1994 and
involved several hundreds of people in various countries, although Italy
remained the epicenter.
At the end of 1995 the LBP published a pamphlet titled *Mind Invaders*,
whose first chapter was a declaration of intents as far as myth-making was
concerned. It linked myth-making to the life, desires and expectations of a
*community*, no matter how "open" and loose-knit it might be, and in a way
predicted the rising of the global movement.

I do not intend to go into the details of the Luther Blissett Project, I am
not (and will never be) a blissettologist. You can find a lot of useful and
interesting material on the net, especially at
. I just want to point out that some of "Luther
Blissett"'s theoretico-practical findings have been used - perhaps
instinctively at the beginning, then making explicit
references - by the "tute bianche" [White Overalls, pronounced too-tay
bee-ankay]. This is hardly surprising given that both phenomena were
inspired by the zapatistas, but they also inspired each other.

Two "commandments" in particular were passed on:
1) You Shall Not Care About Binary Oppositions (for example those between
visibility and invisibility, legality and illegality, violence and
non-violence, static and dynamic).
2) You Shall Separate All Things United And Unite All Things Separated In
Order To Create Uncanny Feelings Of Closeness And Distance.
On a famous T-shirt, the slogan "Peace & Love" was associated to pictures
of violent confrontation. The "Tute Bianche" often provoked a kind of
non-violent rioting, which took place in an intersection of
public space that was neither "legal" nor "illegal". The comrades would
walk towards the police line, their open hands raised, expecting to be
clubbed nevertheless chanting: "Stiamo arrivando / Bastardi, stiamo
arrivando!" [Here we come / Bastards, here we come] on the chorus of

I know that outside Italy people find it difficult to understand the
background and tactics of the "tute bianche". Well, that is because the
chain you're seeing is short of three links.

The first link is the evolution of the Italian Autonomia movement,
notwithstanding the repression of the late 1970's and the difficulties of
the 1980's and the 1990's. Toni Negri may have been the most
influential theorist, though he isn't the only one. Recently there was much
hype on Empire, the latest essay he co-authored with Michael Hardt and has
become something of a cult book. I would say that *Empire* is just a
summing-up and a popularization of the concepts that have modified our
political DNA since the Eighties.

The second link is the direct collaboration with the Zapatistas of Chiapas,
and the influence their strategies and language had on the Italian scene
thanks to the network of Ya Basta! associations. It is
impossible to make a complete account of all those innovations here and
now, but I'll make a few examples. Anyway, the most important thing to know
is that the Zapatistas provided us with mythological material that had
nothing to do with traditional Third-World-fetishism or revolutionary
tourism. Marcos was not even a heroic leader, he was just a spokesperson
and a "sub-commander", which also implied an interesting approach to myths:
according to a popular Mexican legend, Emiliano Zapata is still alive and
riding his horse somewhere, in the woods and on the mountains. Some indios
even regard him as part of Maya mythology, some sort of pagan semi-god.
Contemporary Zapatistas have been able to communicate to society from an
intersection between folklore and pop culture. In a way, the *real*
Commander (with the capital "a") is still Zapata. It was like saying:
"Don't you care about me, I'm not your masked hero, our revolution is
impersonal, it is new but is also the same revolution as always, Zapata
still rides". This is the real meaning of balaklavas: the revolution is
faceless, everybody
can be a Zapatista, we all are Marcos.

Here we come to the third link, i.e. the work on myth-making I outlined a
few minutes ago.

The Tute Bianche were neither a "vanguard" of the movement nor a "current",
a "fringe" of it. The white overall was born as an ironic reference to the
ghosts of urban conflict then became a tool, a symbol
and an open identity made available to the movement. Anybody could wear a
white overall insofar as they respected a certain style. One of the typical
soundbites was: "We're wearing the white overall so that other people wear
it. We're wearing the white overall so that we can take it off someday",
which means:
"You don't have to join any army, the white overall is not our 'uniform'.
the finger is pointing at the moon, and as soon as the multitudes look at
the moon the finger will vanish into thin air. Our discourse is very
factual, we are making proposals, the more people will accept them and put
them into practice, the less important we will be."

Luckily enough, we decided to call it quits and take off the overall soon
before Genoa, for it had become an identitary feature and we wanted to
merge in the multitudes. Had we been recognizable as "tute
bianche" during Friday's manhunt, we'd have even more to be sorry about.
Had the white overall really been an "uniform" we'd have many more
Giulianis to cry for.

In the Autumn of 1994 the Mayor of Milan Formentini, a member of the racist
party called Northern League, commanded the eviction of the Leoncavallo
squatted centre and stated: "From now on, squatters will be nothing more
than ghosts wandering about in the city!". His description was accepted
ironically: during a big demonstration, numberless "ghosts" in white
overall attacked the police and rioted in the centre of the city. Ce
n'etait qu'un debut.

After that, the "tute bianche" became an organized sub-section of the new
Leoncavallo, providing security service at demonstrations and defending the
place from other assaults.
Yet a strange thing happened: some rhetorically opposed the white overall
and the "blue overall" [tute blu, the Italian correspondent for "blue
collars", the traditional factory working class], and the former was used
as a metaphor for post-fordist labour - flexible, "precarious", temporary
workers whom the bosses prevent from enjoying their rights and being
represented by the unions.
Moreover, white is the sum of all other colors, therefore it was more
suitable than the usual rainbow to describe the cooperation and convergence
of different subjects.
As a consequence, in the course of 1997-98 comrades started to wear the
white overall and occupy or picket agencies for temporary jobs. This
happened in Rome, Milan, Bologna and North-East Italy.

Then started the Kosovo war. If I am not wrong, "protected direct action"
was invented when the social centres of North-East Italy decided to invade
the US military base in Aviano. For those of you who
still ignore what it was about, it encompassed pads, helmets, gas masks,
plastic shields and mobile barricades made of inflated tires and plexyglass
panels. In the following months, the "testudo" [turtle]
tactic was devised in order to turn against riot squad cops one of their
most common practice.
Thanks to these inventions, the number of injured demonstrators decreased
dramatically. Moreover, manhunt was made almost impossible, for the
*testudo* encouraged the demonstrators to stand, walk and be clubbed all
together. On the contrary, the number of hospitalized cops slightly
increased, because they had no specific training to deal with that new kind
of strategy. Sometimes the *testudo* opened its frontline and let some cops
run inside. Of course the latter got trapped in the middle and were
joyfully kicked. All this happened in front of numberless cameras,
reporters and TV crews. Police defeats were broadcasted and amplified.
Journalists were forced to notice that the demonstrators were only marching
towards their target, that no stone or molotov cocktail had been thrown, no
window had been smashed etc. This aroused sympathy among all kinds of
people who had been seeking a way
to challenge the state of things but would have never participated in a

The fact that many people put their bodies on the line while feeling no
sense of martyrdom also reminded some people of Foucault's (and Deleuze's)
analyses on "bio-politics" and "bio-power". Some
enthusiastically stated that bodies were back, they were used to challenge
the order of discourse imposed upon them, in order to escape control. This
might be an exageration and it is little bit off-topic

After a few months of this routine, the most intelligent police officials
and the state authorities assumed that the only way to come to terms with
these tactics was a strategy of "containment" which might
even encompass compromise and minute-by-minute negotiation. We started to
see officials waving city maps and uttering strange mixtures of street
talk, machiavellianisms and tongue-in-cheek references:
"OK guys, there's no way we can allow you to reach your target, it is our
duty to charge you and we're gonna do it, but we can draw back for a
hundred metres and let you march until this spot here. If you take one more
step we'll react, OK? You guys'd better put the rubber barricades back into
the vans, there's no use for them, everything's cool, OK? My men are
perfectly in control. Oh, and tell the fucking
journalists they don't have to stand in our way, what's this got to do with
them? It's between you and us, you are cool, we are cool, so what's the

Of course the tute bianche always took several further steps, cops were
never very cool and journalists always stood in the way. This took real
advantage only to the tute bianche, for it allowed them to
further improve the strategy and achieve some important goals. The cops'
"talkative" approach was exploited in a highly media-conscious way, which
never failed to place the tute bianche where the media and the authorities
did not expect them to be.
What is more important, the tute bianche staged a Zapatista-inspired
narrative of civil disobedience and multitudes "blowing against the
Empire". It wasn't at all a thing between the comrades and the police,
it was a message to civil society.
The tute bianche usually announced what was their aim and what tactics they
would employ at the next demo, in order to "blackmail" the authorities.
They said: "There's no secret, we'll do this and we'll do
that, this is the framework. We are not responsible for anything that
happens outside the framework. It is up to the police to keep things cool.
You know our tactics, it is your duty to face them without
freaking out!". And yet the tactics were employed in unpredictable ways so
that everybody was taken aghast and cops *did* freak out but couldn't do
much harm. This brought about concrete results in the
course of year 2000.

Now I'm quoting from a document which some comrades wrote and sent out soon
before Genoa. They wanted to clarify a few points and respond to some
slanders and distortions spread by self-styled revolutionaries. At times
the English is a bit clumsy, but it is understandable:

In spite of the mistakes we made, I still think that the way the tute
bianche had organized and imposed themselves to the public attention - all
the while avoiding many traps and ambushes in a media-savvy way - not only
prevented even fiercer carnage in Genoa, but also played a key role in
building consensus around their practices so that almost 300,000 people
decided to join us on saturday and literally save our asses. Errors were
made though, certainly we hadn't expect such a sudden increase of the level
of repression, nor had we taken into sufficient account the rivalry between
police and carabinieri. There's no way I can go into the details now, I'd
rather suggest someone else to translate the long testimony given by our
spokesperson Luca Casarini before the Parliamentary Committee investigating
the events of Genoa, on September 6th, 2001.
One thing I know for sure: even in this landscape abruptly changed by
discontinuities, we ought to keep all distinctions between the babies and
the water, and make treasure of the experiences we have