Radical media, politics and culture.


hydrarchist writes

Extracts from


Imagination and the Multitudes in Italy in the Days of the Global Cacerolazo

by Wu Ming, February 2002

[the following essay was featured in /Giap/ - 2nd Series - #7, February 10th,
2002. It was reviewed by French magazine Les Inrockuptibles <http://www.wumingfoundation.com/italiano/rasse gna/inrockuptibles_wm.html>]

It is true that the "movement of the movements" - albeit sorely-tried - has
survived the 2001 butcheries of Genoa, Gothenburg etc. Indeed, it has started
over in spite of the many attempts at wiping it out, in Italy and possibly
the rest of the planet.

It is true that even September 11th and the following Fifth Reich ideological
flocking failed to stop the mobilization of myriads of people. Indeed, the
opposition to the enduring global war provided one more reason to take the
streets and organize.  

It is true that millions of exiles from the old "official" left are crowding
on the borders of this manifold movement. These people are demanding to take
part, they need issues, ideas, words and action to restore their hope in the
opposition to the present and allow them to figure out the future.

It's all true. That's why we have found ourselves facing a lot of new problems.

The first and bigger one is the problem of imagination, i.e. the relationship
between this movement's imagery and its imagination, the way the movement
thinks of itself and the way it figures out that new, possible world it talks
about [...]

So far, nobody has managed to interpret the multitude. At best we managed
to evoke the multitude, as happened in Genoa [July 2001], always semi-consciously,
the way apprentice sorcerers do.

It was not by chance that, after Genoa and the Perugia-Assisi peace march,
the most successful demonstrations were organized with little help from the
most organized groups and networks, which weren't confident enough (and were
wrong): the November 10th demo against the war on Afghanistan and the January
19th demo against the new act on immigration.

The reverse is also true: the most organized groups threw all their weight
in the least successful actions, e.g. the December 17th, the so-called Day
of Disobedience.

Organized groups are still trapped in their own short-sightedness. They keep
having two major faults:

- the first one is partisan triumphalism, which identifies political
success with the survival and strengthening of the group or party, "us" and
"our own" movement within the greater movement. This can only reinstate the
obsolete XXth century logic of the vanguard. As the sub-commander Marcos once
put it: "What good is a vanguard so ahead that nobody can catch up with them?"

- In order to win the battle of imagination it is also necessary to get rid
of defeatism, that old illness of the left.  

At best, defeatism consists in the very christian spirit of testimony, a spirit
which agrees with baron De Coubertin's motto "The most important thing is
not to win but to take part".

At worst, defeatism lies in dogmatism and an inconsequent hyper-radicalism.
In the latter case, while ill will and sluggishness replace strategy, electronic
flamewars make up for tactics.

These fuckers' one and only activity consists in throwing anathemas, describing
any campaign or action as either "inadequate" or "reformist", as well as refusing
any linguistic innovation as either "spectacle", "recuperation" and so on.

We've got to know how to win. We are to be up to our victories ("partial"
victories of course, but no victory is "total" after all). We have to recognize
victory when we achieve it. If necessary, we have to give our victories new
names and make a further, higher bid. Above all, we have to be aware that
we have a big potential, there are many more people listening to us than those
we see taking the streets.

What does this multitude want? And who do they want it from?

We believe that this multitude needs new founding mythologies, myths that
are radically new, and the stress must fall upon both terms: they are to be
both radical (i.e. to start over from the roots) and new (i.e. to go beyond
the XXth century).

In order to make a new world possible, there must be the possibility to imagine
it and make it imaginable by a huge number of people.

[...] If there is no common reference to a common imagery, if there is no
"open" narration to use and re-manipulate indefinitely, then the movement
will find it very hard to learn from experience, precisely because it is a
new kind of experience, nay, it is an experiment.

It is not a matter of "crystallizing" the movement's epics: quite the reverse,
we have to share the epics, make the epics accessible in the public domain.
We have to make epics our most effective cultural weapon, potentially *hegemonic*,
beyond testimony, in order to win, not only to take part.

[...] In this text we can only depict an early "lump" of mythological matter,
i.e. the so-called "Italian anomaly", this country's ever stigmatized "ungovernability".
We are to start over from this very ungovernability.

In a famous speech, Malcolm X drew a distinction between two kinds of slaves:
the "house negro" and the "field negro" [nowadays it sounds more incorrect
than it was back then]. The house negro lived in the master's house and had
slavery rooted deep in his mind: he would say "our plantation", "our
house, he'd worry if the master got sick, he'd work hard to estinguish the
flames if the house caught on fire. The field negro, on the contrary, was
exploited in the plantation, and he hated his master. If the master got sick
he'd hope that he die, if the farm caught on fire he'd pray for wind to blow
harder. By applying that distinction in the 1960's United States, Malcolm
X criticised those black people who'd say "our government" instead
of saying "the government". "I even heard one say 'our astronauts'!
That's a negro that's out of his mind!".

There has been much talking about Italy as a turbulent country and an "ungovernable"
one. As to this issue, the Italian official left has developed a self-whipping
and self-hating attitude, as well as a fetish of everything concerning the
law and the "rules". The left has complied with the demands of global capitalism,
ever since the famous meetings of the Trilateral Commission in the Seventies.

However, what does "ungovernable" mean? To us, it means that we can be laid
low, but it is impossible to lay us as low as the United States [...] That
is a governable society, where "house negroes" appear to be more numerous
than field negroes. In Italy, in spite of everything, most people still hope
that the wind blows harder and don't give a shit about our astronauts. There
is a constant gap between the official nation and the real one, and it's never
been this wide.

For a long time Italy has been depicted as "the European South America". People
use this phrase with a racist hint, that is: we are a banana republic, we
are uncivilized, any dictator passing by may shit on our heads.

People forget that Latin America is not only a place of violence and repression:
it is also a place of never ending leftist mythopoiesis [elaboration of mythologies],
not even the fiercest violence could cut the numberless red strings. It is
an universe where resistance survives underground then re-emerges in new shapes
and forms, e.g. Zapatism, the continental campaign for the release of little
Elian Gonzales, afro-Colombian resistance in the forests and Argentine cacerolazos
[pot-and-pan protests, t.n.].

Same situation in Italy, where the left  - even the left that rejects
"third-worldism" - has had many connections and kinship with the left of the
mestizo continent, ever since Garibaldi's raids in Brasil and Uruguay.

As happens with Latin America, Italy is a sedimentation of mythologies. Mythologies
allow us to go farther.

And yet the self-hating attitude has (partially) influenced even the radical
left. We tend to exalt to the skies some north-american and north-american
movements whose political potential is ten times smaller than ours, i.e. they
can mobilise 10% of the people that we usually mobilise.

Travelling around the world, we realize that comrades from other countries
look at Italy with astonishment. Besides such recent innovative tactics as
"padded civil disobedience" [see /Giap/digest#11],
which was exported with some success, there are many things to say:

The anti-G8 demo in Genoa [300,000 demonstrators] and the peace march from
Perugia to Assisi [perhaps 400,000 marchers] were the biggest demonstrations
of the movement in the world. Seattle had 70,000 and was a triumph. Quebec
City had 60,000 and was very good [cfr. /Giap/digest#10].
In London and Berlin a demo of  20,000 people is considered a triumph,
and we're talking about national demos in two big capitals of the world! 
[In March 2002 an even bigger demo took place in Rome: three million people
marching against Berlusconi's bill on labour rights, t.n.]

Our "social forums" may seem ordinary things, and very boring to boot, and
yet many people abroad are stunned by the existence of such an influential

All over Europe there have been several campaigns against the Schengen treaty
(detention and forceful repatriation of  "illegal" migrants etc.) and
yet nobody ever stormed in a detention center and dismantled it piece by piece,
as happened in Bologna on January 25th.

In no other country "self-managed social centers" [our particular version
of squats, t.n.] exist in this form or have such an influence on their territories,
an influence that we tend to take for granted. Where such places existed,
the state got rid of many of them (e.g. in Germany and the Netherlands). There
are some in Spain, however, they don't have such a wide political influence.
In South London, the "121 Centre" ceased to exist about two years ago. It
was as big as the restrooms at Milan's Leoncavallo [the most famous and longevous
social centre in Italy, t.n.].

We could cite dozens of examples, picking them up at random from the Italian
history of the last fifty years. In Italy 1968 lasted more than a lustrum
[about nine years actually]. Italy had the biggest communist party in the
west, which was very influential, for evil or for good. Italy had the most
innovative currents of contemporary "heretic" marxism, plants that found fertile
soil and partially rewrote the lexicon of national politics, thanks to the
consequences of Gramsci's exhortation to conquer cultural "hegemony".

It was precisely in order to stop this frightening high tide that Italy became
- it is nearly stereotypal now - a "laboratory" of repression and preventive
counter-revolution, a place where the system tested methods later to be exploited
all around the planet (e.g. the Strategy of Tension in the 1970's) [state-run
black operations and CIA-backed bombings in crowded public spaces, t.n.].

In the meanwhile, Italy has really turned to Europe's Argentina: in this country,
extra-legal capital [organized crime] has taken over politics, institutions
are at war with each other (government vs. judiciary), and the crisis of this
government's international legitimacy and reliability matches a crisis of
its representativeness on the homefront. What a paradoxical nation is this:
Italy is deprived of any "plausible" alternative, and yet a huge mass movement
fights in the streets and hints at a new constituent power.

We are just describing facts, we will not take soundings into history looking
for the reasons.

The turn of the century has left us with a radically discontinuous movement.
Any local resistance inspires - and is inspired by - thousands of other "lumps"
all around the planet. Hundreds of thousands of sentient beings are undertaking
an exodus towards salvation. They feel that their only chance is interconnection,
a communality of the whole species, brotherhood and sisterhood from one continent
to the next. We urgently need choral, open narratives, tales that travel
mouth to ear, songs that allow us to recognize each other wherever we are.
There are no gurus, there is no such thing as a monopoly of mantra composition.
Quite the contrary: the mantra of the multitudes is an endless flux, a boundless
and boiling sea. We are to plunge our heads into that sea, catch the stories
and tell them. There's little more to do... but demanding dignity for all.

The new founding myth, the multitude's self-representation can only be based
upon that.