Il Sessantotto

   The year 1968 was turbulent throughout the industrialized world. In Italy, the student disturbances spread into the factories, provoking the “hot autumn” of 1969 and eventually the descent into outright terrorism in the 1970s. Italy’s universities remained at a boiling point until the late 1970s; in 1977, there was another similar student uprising. The causes of the first protests, which began in February 1967 with the occupation of university buildings in Pisa and Turin, are to be found in the changing nature of the Italian university and society. Newly rich, Italy was now for the first time beginning to produce large numbers of students with the income and inclination to pursue university studies. Such students arrived at university to find antiquated institutions teaching out-of-date curricula and with a privileged professoriate that was detached from the world the students knew. An inadequate university reform law (the “Gui law”) did little to improve matters. Young people born in the aftermath of World War II were also in rebellion against the conservative values of traditional Italian society. Last, but not least, Italy’s standing as the most faithful ally of the United States did not help. The suppression of democracy in Greece, the fear of a U.S.-backed coup in Italy, and the ongoing Vietnam War all combined to make revolutionary, especially Maoist, thought seem a useful interpretative tool.
   But the point of revolutionary politics is not to interpret the world but to change it. By February 1968, literally dozens of university buildings had been occupied, well in advance of the more famous “events” of Paris in May–June 1968. On 1 March 1968, the so-called battle of Valle Giulia took place, in which radical students tried to “liberate” the faculty of architecture in Rome from the police, who had thrown out student occupiers the day before. About 4,000 students attacked the police, throwing stones and metal objects. The police responded with baton charges, tear gas, and indiscriminate beatings of the students they captured. All told, 150 policemen and nearly 500 students were injured; miraculously, nobody was killed. The “battle” inspired Pierpaolo Pasolini to write his famous poem “Vi odio figli di papa” (“I Hate You Daddy’s Boys”), in which he openly sympathized with the young proletarian carabinieri under attack by their wealthier and politically more radical peers. There were literally thousands of incidents in the next two to three years in the universities and the schools, especially the licei frequented by aspirant university students. Clashes between the far left groups and far right squads became commonplace in the early 1970s, and numerous activists were killed or badly beaten on both sides. The student movement spread into the factories. Movements, such as Lotta Continua and Avanguardia operaia (Workers’Avantguard), actively tried to stoke a revolutionary situation; the Partito Comunista Italiano/Italian Communist Party (PCI), by contrast, inveighed against the groupuscles of the far left and sought moderation and dialogue.
   Terrorism from both the left and the right found its roots in this milieu. As late as 1977 there were scenes of urban warfare in Italy. In March 1977 first Rome and then Bologna were the scene for clashes between the police and so-called autonomists, ultraradicals with no ties to the official political parties. In October of the same year, the murder of a radical, Walter Rossi, by neofascist thugs provoked a massive riot in Turin, during which a student worker not involved in the clashes was killed.
   The events of 1968 and 1977 have resonance even today. Many sessantottini have become influential media figures, politicians, and intellectuals (by no means all are still on the left), and on the right the current leading members of Alleanza Nazionale/National Alliance (AN) preserve a fond recollection of their time as picchiatori (“hard fighters”) whose earliest political experience was in street battles with the Marxist left.
   See also Brigate Rosse (BR); Negri, Antonio; Strategia della Tensione.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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