from Guy Debord

To Paolo Salvadori
24 November [19]69
Dear Paolo:

From the news furnished to us by the radio on 20 November [1969], we have the impression that, with the events of the 19th -- to continue the comparison with French events -- you have arrived at "the morning of May 11th."[1] But since the Italian crisis continues according to an Italian rhythm that we described in Venice, the question now is knowing how time will go so that it reaches "May 14th."[2]

The information contained in your letter of the 16th[3] (plus what Gianfranco [Sanguinetti] added on the 20th) certainly confirms the depth of the movement. Certainly, the decomposition of the government -- which, in the journalistic reports, is presented here as the principal cause of the troubles -- in reality is only the reflection in the political and administrative superstructures of the class struggle that is shaking all of Italian society. In the global proletarian movement that has re-emerged, Italy is at the heart of the contradictions of the old world: economic modernization and relative backwardness, power of the workers' bureaucracy linked to the totalitarian [Communist] East and bourgeois liberalism. Its dominant class becomes the weakest link in the chain of all the instituted powers, because Italy's working class becomes the most conscious and manifests itself with the greatest force. The possibility of Stalinist [Communist Party] participation in the government expresses not only the politics of "sacred union" at the Italian level, but also the sacred union of all the dominant classes, bourgeois and bureaucratic-totalitarian, at the global level, so as to combat the revolution. Naturally, the very real rivalries of the different strata, and even the opposed formations, of the dominant class create an extraordinary and amusing confusion. Certainly an analysis, such as the one Marx made of the class struggles of 1848-51, would be a very good undertaking.

From a tactical point of view, it would be necessary to bear in mind this difference with May [1968]: we had a "strong power," a solid parliamentary majority and, finally, the personal power of a man of character [Charles de Gaulle]. A great part of the current situation in Italy (but this obviously only from the governmental and parliamentary side) more strongly resembles May 1958, the miserable end of the IVth Republic. This has both favorable and threatening aspects: in May 1968, no one in the dominant class was too worried at the beginning (despite the stupor) because de Gaulle reassured them and even the Stalinists implicitly admitted that de Gaulle was unshakeable. The true panic only started between the 16th and 26th of May, and became total between the 27th and the 30th. The Italian bourgeoisie certainly has more reasons to fear the Stalinists and it especially has reasons to fear the workers. It can choose the Stalinist card or the military card. If it hesitates too long in choosing, there will be a civil war that, according to the moment, can include the Stalinists in one camp or the other. In terms of strategy, the bourgeoisie (that is to say, the fraction delegated to governing the State) must now make its choice very quickly, because it is extremely dangerous for it to use the Stalinist brake in its current function much longer: if it suddenly breaks, the civil war will become unavoidable and even will begin badly for the bourgeoise and its allies.

It is impossible that, despite its paralysis and disorder, the current Itlain regime will disappear without a fight. The fall of the IVth Republic was very easy because, in 1958, de Gaulle was the reassuring recourse envisioned for a long time. No one in Italy has such a place. But the French bourgeoisie was not threatened in 1958. It was only a part of the political personnel that was discarded by the colonial uprising, by a fascist stratum that was unencumbered but local, exotic. Faced with the Italian proletariat, the bourgeoisie will do everything to resist.

Of course, when I speak of the strategic choice that the bourgeoisie must make quickly, I do not mean to say that it will actually have the intelligence and force to make a decision quickly. Nevertheless, it will be necessary for it to choose the degree of violence and the terrain (for example: entrance of the Stalinists into the government, vast promised reforms, large increases in salaries and repression of the extremist provocateurs who want to continue [to struggle]) that it opposes to proletarian violence.

It is quite probable that the bourgeois and bureaucrats will see that there is another important difference from the occupations movement in France: the Italian workers have at this moment already attained a degree of radicality that the workers in France only reached at the end of May (not to affirm too quickly that the Italian workers have reached a superior level, but this is what I believe).

The mutinies in the police force are a sign of extreme importance and very great seriousness (for the bourgeoisie, but also, immediately, for the rioters who can be machine-gunned in the streets). Two leaders of the government -- I don't know which ones -- have met with the mutineers in Milan, just as a Maoist minister met with a general in the opposition in Wou-Han![4] On the 16th, you wrote the unions and the police were the only institutions that still functioned in Italy. It is certain that, if the police rebel and open fire on the rioters, the Stalinists will really have lots of trouble preventing the workers from rising up in response (a great part of the Stalinist party's shock troops will escape from it).

I write all this down very quickly. There is thus a certain confusion in it. I have kept for the end of this letter what concerns our action. Your "first action in the worker milieu"[5] is a capolavoro![6] It was truly the text that should have been published on such a day, and as that day was the height of your anticipations, your text was surely quite striking for many readers. The success of its distribution, given the means that you have, was remarkable. It was good luck that you didn't have any more troubles during the operation.

The French [situationists] didn't communicate clearly enough at Venice this point of our experience: almost all of us find ourselves in dangerous situations more often due to the Stalinists and Leftist or bureaucratic students, than to the police forces that we confront two or three evenings per week. In Italy, if the movement soon goes further than in May, many people will be armed; and it will obviously be more dangerous to be attacked by the Stalinists or others, who denounce you on occasion as fascists or provocateurs. We will be shot right away for having encountered the bureaucrats on a terrain that they control. It is necessary to keep a certain prudence.

The tract[7] of the pro-situ[autionist] students is likable (perhaps with a mystified tendency to present the student as victim of over-exploitation?). I suppose that you are in contact with them. Perhaps they and the first workers encountered can form the nucleus of a sort of C.M.D.O. [Council for the Maintanence of the Occupations], if the circumstances soon require a more extended communal action.

Does the current situation require an quickened rhythm of activity -- on the side or in the place of your prior programme of work? If so, would the presence of a French situationist be useful to you (to "replace" Jonathan)?

Cordially yours,
Alice [Becker-Ho] embraces you,

[1] On 11 May 1968, at 2:15 in the morning, the forces of order assaulted the barricades in the Latin Quarter.

[2] On 14 May [1968], the day after the retreat of the police, the Enrages-Situationist International Committee was formed and began the first general assembly of the occupiers of the Sorbonne.

[3] Paolo Salvadori wrote: "Thursday the 13th, at the Fiat plant in Turin, the headquarters of the 'Workers Commission' (syndical), located within the factory, was burned. On the wall was written: THINGS FOR THE MOMENT.'"

[4] "In July 1967, General Chen Tsai-tao arrested two of the principal rulers in Peking who had come to negotiate with him; the Prime Minister had to make the trip and announced as a 'victory' the fact that he had obtained the restoration of his emissaries." ("The Explosion Point of Ideology in China," drafted by Guy Debord, cf. I.S. #11, p. 10.)

[5] The "Advice [to the Italian proletariat on the possibilities of social revolution]."

[6] Masterpiece.

[7] Avere per fine il movimento reale [To have as goal the real movement], signed: proletari [proletarians] + ludd [Luddites] + consigli [councils].

(Published in Guy Debord, Correspondance, Volume 4, 1969-1972. Footnotes by Alice Debord. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! June 2005.)

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