Translator’s Introduction

On Terrorism and the State

In early 1979, Gianfranco Sanguinetti was hard at work on Rimedio A Tutto: Discorsi sulle Prossime Opportunita’ di Rovinare Il Capitalismo in Italia (“Remedy for Everything: Discourses on the Next Chances to Ruin Capitalism in Italy”),[1] which was intended to be a follow-up to his Rapporto verdico sulle ultima opportunita di salvare il capitalismo in Italia (“Truthful Report on the Last Chances to Save Capitalism in Italy”). Published in August 1975 under the pseudonym of Censor, the Rapporto verdico had been a tremendous success. Not only had it received very positive reviews in the Italian press and had sold a lot of copies, but it had also caused a major scandal. No one had suspected that Censor (allegedly a conservative member of Italy’s ruling class) did not exist and that, Sanguinetti, an anti-capitalist revolutionary and a former member of the Situationist International, had written the book, which were facts that he revealed five months after it had been published.[2]

Sanguinetti had certainly been stung by the rebukes made of him in mid-1978 by his friend and collaborator, the ex-situationist Guy Debord, who had unsuccessfully encouraged him to go public with the truth about Aldo Moro while the Italian Prime Minister was still alive (allegedly kidnapped and murdered by the Red Brigades, Moro was in fact abducted and killed by Italy’s intelligence agencies).[3] Perhaps Sanguinetti was also motivated by the fact that, in February 1979, Debord had published his Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of “The Society of the Spectacle,” which in part discussed the Moro affair. In any event, Sanguinetti decided to publish the tenth chapter of Rimedio A Tutto as a book in and of itself. Originally titled Terrorismo di stato e stato di terrorismo (“State Terrorism and the State of Terrorism”), this text was published in April 1979 under the title Del terrorismo e dello stato: La teoria e la practica del terrorismo per la prima volta divulgate (“On Terrorism and the State: The Theory and Practice of Terrorism Divulged for the First Time”). The first part of this new title was intended as an echo of Del principe e delle lettere (“On the Prince and Letters”), a revolutionary pamphlet written by Vittorio Alfieri in 1795.[4] The second part seems to be a dig at Debord, whose Preface had claimed to be the first text to speak truthfully about Italian terrorism: “Of these sad facts many Italians have been aware, and many more straight away took them into account. But they have never been published anywhere, because the latter have been deprived of the means of doing it and the former of the wish to do so.”[5] This claim ignored the existence of Censor’s Rapporto verdico, which had been published more than three years previously.[6]

Perhaps because it had been rushed into print, Del terrorismo e dello stato presented itself in a manner that was slightly confusing. The table of contents for Rimedio A Tutto, as well as Sanguinetti’s various introductions to it (a “Notice from the Author,” a “Dedication to the Bad Workers of Italy and All the Other Countries,” and a “Preface”), accompanied it. But the rest of the book was never published and, as Sanguinetti relates in his preface to the French edition of his book, Del terrorismo “was not reprinted in Italy because of several difficulties created for me by a stupid and crude judicial-police persecution.”

Del terrorismo e dello stato was quickly translated into French as Du Terrorisme et de l’Etat: La théorie et la pratique du terrorisme divulgées pour la première fois by two sets of translators: Jean-François Martos, a young man going to school in Paris, and Jean-François Labrugère and Philippe Rouyau, two young men living in Grenoble and working as a team. In the first half of 1980, these men published their respective translations, both of which included a new preface that Sanguinetti had written in January 1980. But unlike Martos, who produced a second, corrected edition of his translation, Labrugère and Rouyau only produced a single edition of theirs. On 13 August 1980, they wrote to Gérard Lebovici, the editor-in-chief of Editions Champ Libre, which had published a French translation of Sanguinetti’s Rapporto verdico in January 1976, and asked Lebovici if he would assist them in publishing a new edition of their translation of Del Terrorismo. Lebovici refused, in part because he didn’t think very much of the quality of Sanguinetti’s second book, and in part because he was offended by its subtitle, which ignored the fact that Champ Libre had published Debord’s Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of “The Society of the Spectacle” two months before Sanguinetti had come out with the Italian edition of his book.[7]

At the time that Martos published his translation of Del terrorismo, he wasn’t one of Guy Debord’s friends. But when the two men met in March 1981, Debord immediately pressed him to join his disinformation campaign against both Sanguinetti and his book. In a letter to Sanguinetti dated 4 April 1981, Martos says that Guy “isn’t angry with you, but he has simply ‘broken off relations.’[8] He thinks that this attorney, of whom you have spoken a bit to me, and who is surnamed ‘the doge’ – Mignoli? – is an officer in the secret services and that you should be suspicious of him.”

Martos would write to Sanguinetti again, on 3 June 1981.[9] “I have recently received two documents that you already know: one is the correspondence between you and ‘Cavalcanti,’[10] which Guy has made available to me and Michel [Prigent]. The other is Els van Daele’s ‘Postface to the Dutch translation’ of Terrorismo,” Martos wrote. “Given the critiques of you that are developed in these texts, tacere non possum, it is thus necessary that I give you my opinion of them, holding myself to the strict truth […] As all of this is now discussed by several comrades, and so as to make precise to them what I think, I have also communicated this letter to them. And, awaiting your response, or better still hoping to see you if you come to Paris, I send you and Katarina my best wishes.” Sanguinetti didn’t respond to this letter, a fact that Debord interpreted as “a terrible verification: even more than I would have thought.” According to him, the “quite polite tone of the questions that you posed to Gianfranco had the merit of allowing him complete freedom to respond and offered no excuse for a cop-out.”[11]

Debord’s behind-the-scenes campaign against Sanguinetti’s On Terrorism continued into 1982. Daele’s “Postface,” which was either based upon materials that Debord had furnished or had been written by Debord himself, was followed by Lucy Forsyth’s “Foreword to the English Edition,”[12] which was a simple reiteration of the contents of Daele’s “Postface.” In the words of Sanguinetti’s letter to Mustapha Khayati, which appears at the end of this volume, these translations of Sanguinetti’s Del Terrorismo “are the most striking examples of schizophrenia in the history of publishing since Anti-Machiavel by Frederic II and Voltaire.” Both of them “publish my text and, at the same time, launch an attack against my person […] This gives the impression that the book was only published so that their suspicions about and censures of its author could be spread.” To make matters worse, Forsyth’s translation is overly literal and full of typographical and grammatical mistakes. Until now, it has been the only translation of On Terrorism and the State available in English.

* * *

Though it was one of the very first texts to be published on the subject of terrorism in Italy during the 1970s, On Terrorism and the State is completely absent from “mainstream” discussions of the subject. The list of books in which it is not mentioned is truly extensive: Kenneth R. Langford’s An Analysis of Left and Right Wing Terrorism in Italy (Defense Intelligence College, 1985); Leonard Weinberg and William Lee Eubank’s The Rise and Fall of Italian Terrorism (Westview Press, 1987); Richard Drake’s The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy (Indiana University Press, 1989); Robert C. Meade’s Red Brigades: The Story of Italian Terrorism (Macmillan, 1990); Raimondo Catanzaro’s The Red Brigades and Left-wing Terrorism in Italy (Pinter, 1991); Marco Rimanelli’s Waning Terror: Red Brigades and Neo-Nazi Terrorism in Italy (World Jurist Association, 1991); Jeffrey McKenzie Bale’s The “Black” Terrorist International: Neo-fascist Paramilitary Networks and the “Strategy of Tension” in Italy, 1968-1974 (University of California, Berkeley, 1994); Paul Ginsborg’s A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943-1988 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Daniele Ganser’s NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe (Routledge, 2004); Silje Dalsbotten Aass’s State Responses to Terrorism in Italy: The Period 1969-1984 (S.D. Aass, 2005); Graeme Allen Stout’s Arrested Images: Discourses of Terrorism in Italy and Germany (University of Minnesota Press, 2006); Anna Cento Bull’s Italian Neo-Fascism: The Strategy of Tension and the Politics of Non-Reconciliation (Berghahn Books, 2007); Pier Paolo Antonello’s Imagining Terrorism: The Rhetoric and Representation of Political Violence in Italy 1969-2009 (MHRA, 2009); and Richard Cottrell’s Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis (Progressive Press, 2012), among many others.

It is possible that none of these books mention On Terrorism and the State because its author is virtually unknown outside of certain, very limited circles and because, over the years, copies of his book have been almost impossible to find. In the words of one of the very few authors who does refer to it – Philip Willan, the author of Puppetmasters: The Political Use of Terrorism in Italy (Constable, 1991) – Sanguinetti’s book, which is described as “maverick,” is “rare” and “privately published.” That is to say, virtually no commercial distributor carries copies of it; it is only available through anarchist or informal distribution networks. And yet, according to, which describes itself as “the world’s largest library catalog,” three libraries have copies of the Italian original;[13] thirty-four have copies of Martos’ translation; three have copies of the translation by Labrugère and Rouyau; forty-five have copies of the English translation; six have copies of the Dutch translation; eleven have copies of a German translation;[14] one has a copy of a translation into Greek; and one has a copy of a translation into Spanish.

What about the Internet? Ever since 1999, my website ( has hosted Lucy Forsyth’s translations of the prefaces that Sanguinetti wrote to the Italian and French editions of his book, and, ever since 2004, it has hosted her translation of On Terrorism itself.[15] But with a handful of exceptions (see below), the Internet has paid virtually no attention to Sanguinetti’s book. For example, no mention of On Terrorism and the State is made in the Wikipedia entries for “Operation Gladio,” “Gladio in Italy,” “the strategy of tension,” “the years of lead,” “false flag terrorism” and “state terrorism.” Nor is Sanguinetti’s book mentioned in any of the many articles devoted to terrorism, the strategy of tension, and Italy in the 1970s that are archived by, a website devoted to and administered by adherents of libertarian communism.

There is nothing new about this silence. In January 1980, in his preface to the French edition of On Terrorism and the State, Sanguinetti himself notes the existence of “the quasi-complete silence that has surrounded a book that deals with a subject that is spoken about every day, but always in the same mendacious way, on the front pages of all the Italian newspapers as well as on the State-sponsored radio and television stations” and notes that the existence of his book has been “kept secret by the very people who are believed to have the obligation to speak about terrorism.” The reason for this silence is, I believe, easy to imagine. Sanguinetti didn’t simply assert what many people had refused to believe at the time, namely, that the Italian State had bombed, wounded and even killed some of its constituents, and had cynically blamed others for these crimes. He also denounced those who, through either stupidity or self-interest, adamantly refused to believe that such a thing could ever happen. And these people, and those for whom they spoke, never forgave him, even though – or precisely because – history has proved that Sanguinetti was right.[16] Such is the price for proving that the experts have lied: they lie about you; they deny that you even exist.

Among the exceptions is a man named Webster Tarpley, who is the author of Synthetic Terror: Made in USA (Progressive Press, 2005). It is clear from his footnotes and bibliography that he encountered Sanguinetti’s book through my website. Not only does he mention On Terrorism and the State, but he also quotes from it extensively (sometimes with proper attribution, sometimes without it). To him, Sanguinetti’s book offers support for the idea that Al Qaeda didn’t perpetrate the attacks carried out in the United States on September 11, 2001 – the CIA did. Sanguinetti agrees with this thesis, but, unlike him, Tarpley is not a libertarian communist. In fact, he is an anti-Communist zealot and a bit of a lunatic. For example, he thinks that the CIA created and financed the Situationist International.[17] Does he know that Sanguinetti belonged to the SI between 1969 and 1972? If Tarpley were told about it, would he think that Sanguinetti’s membership in the SI somehow undercuts the validity or usefulness of his critique of the CIA? I don’t know. It doesn’t appear that anyone has ever asked Tarpley these questions. But I have read enough of his writings to make an educated guess about how he would respond if he were told that an ex-situationist had written a book that denounced the CIA’s machinations. He would call that book a “limited hang-out operation”[18] and then claim that he was never fooled by it, not even for a second.

The other exceptions are those people who also believe that the CIA was behind the attacks that took place on September 11, 2001 but who, like Sanguinetti, are libertarian communists. A pair of them (Jeff Strahl and Tod Fletcher) have uploaded my translation of On Terrorism and the State to a blog called the “Daily Battle”[19] and have added footnotes that show the many parallels that exist between the terrorist attacks carried out in Italy in the 1970s and the attacks perpetrated on September 11, 2001 in the United States. Those parallels include the following:

(1) Both sets of attacks were preceded by predictions that public opinion about the pressing issues of the day would not change unless some kind of major catastrophe took place.
(2) Both sets of attacks were preceded by events that embarrassed the State (the inability of the unions and police forces to contain working class rebellion during 1969 in Italy and the success that anti-globalization protests had in Seattle in 1999 and Genoa in 2001).
(3) Both sets of attacks were never claimed by any individual or group, but were quickly blamed on extremists.
(4) Despite their limited means, these extremists were able to perpetrate spectacularly successful attacks against much stronger adversaries.
(5) Both the Red Brigades and Al Qaeda were manipulated, if not actually created, by the intelligence agencies of the countries that were attacked by them.
(6) Both sets of attacks were used as justifications for the quick passage of legislation that had been drafted long before these attacks and were used to criminalize completely legitimate forms of protest.
(7) Left-wing intellectuals were quick to believe and repeat the State’s statements about the identities of those who had perpetrated the attacks and to denounce those who didn’t believe these statements as “conspiracy theorists.”

Though I am sympathetic with these efforts or, rather, though I agree that these parallels are significant, I don’t believe that this analysis gets to the heart of the matter.

First and foremost, while Italian capitalism was experiencing a real crisis in the late 1960s and early 1970s (its working class was not only rebelling, but was also rebelling in a truly radical and quite effective fashion), American capitalism in 2001 was not. Questions about the legitimacy of the election of a particular president are not questions about the legitimacy of the system as a whole. Furthermore, protests against meetings held by the World Trade Organization or the International Monetary Fund, even when they are massive, are quite anodyne in comparison to the sabotage of industrial production and participation in wildcat strikes. Second, while Italian capitalism officially proclaimed that it was menaced by and was fighting back against anarchist and Communist subversion (that is to say, something that threatened the country’s class structure), American capitalism officially proclaimed that its enemy was Islamic fundamentalism (something that threatened its religious identity and its “democratic freedoms”). Third and last, Italian capitalism was defending itself with a weapon – Operation Gladio – that had been forged more than twenty years previously. The attacks carried out on September 11, 2001 took many, many years of planning; they certainly weren’t set in motion just two years before they took place.

But this doesn’t mean that people like Strahl and Fletcher aren’t on the right track or that On Terrorism and the State isn’t relevant to a critical analysis of September 11 and other instances of spectacular or artificial terrorism. In fact, it seems that there are more than mere “similarities” or “parallels” between Italian terrorism in the 1970s and the “global war against terrorism” that was launched in response to the attacks of September 11. They are, it seems to me, part of one and the same operation. In the words of one commentator, the attacks of September 11 and the subsequent global war against terrorism were part of “Gladio B”: that is to say, the continuation and expansion of what the CIA and NATO were doing in Italy and the rest of Europe in the 1970s.[20] The central players are the same: one need only call attention to the continued presence of Henry Kissinger to see this.[21] The justification is the same: the State needs to guarantee “continuity of government”; it needs to have the same people in command, even if the thing that threatens that continuity has apparently changed (it used to be a Communist takeover, now it is a terrorist attack). And the ultimate goal is the same: control of the world’s supplies of oil and natural gas. The only difference is that while “Gladio A” used neo-Nazis to fight against the Communists in places like Italy and Belgium, “Gladio B” uses mujahideen to fight against the Communists in Afghanistan and the Balkans. In sum, the Cold War never ended; it simply entered a new phase.

If On Terrorism and the State is relevant today, almost 35 years after it was first published, this is because of its author’s commitment to the importance of historical knowledge and to seeing the continuity “behind” or “between” apparently unrelated or unprecedented events. The perpetrators of the attacks that took place on September 11 have been successful in their attempts to capitalize on those attacks because they have managed to convince people that, on that day, “everything changed.” It is only a detailed knowledge of history that allows us to see that, no, “everything” didn’t “change” on that day. In point of fact, “everything” remained very much the same: the rich and powerful remained in control, and they continued to want to make sure that they never lose their wealth, their power or their ability to control others. In fact, it is precisely change that they fear; they are especially fearful that, one day, “everything” might actually change. Of course, change is inevitable; it is impossible to forestall change forever. This is precisely why the rich and powerful are so dangerous. They grow more desperate every day.

* * *

A few notes about the text and the book’s design. Since I cannot read Italian, I have used Jean-François Martos’ Du Terrorisme et de l’Etat: La théorie et la pratique du terrorisme divulgées pour la première fois as the basis for this translation into English. I have dropped the always controversial and now increasingly irrelevant subtitle. The original Italian edition included words and phrases from a number of other languages (mostly Latin, French and English). Martos was careful to preserve this multi-lingual richness as he translated the work as a whole from Italian into French, and I, translating from French into English, have tried to be careful, too. When Sanguinetti quoted from an Italian translation of something in English, I sought out and used the original wording. When he quoted from something in Latin, I consulted and relied upon the already-established rendering of it into English. All of the footnotes are by me, except where noted. Both Els van Daele’s ‘Postface to the Dutch translation’ of Terrorismo” and Sanguinetti’s letter to Mustapha Khayati have never appeared in print or in an English translation before. Finally, this edition of On Terrorism is the first one to include an index of the important names, events and places mentioned in the text.

[1] The title is a détournement of François-Joseph Lange de La Maltière’s Remède à tout, ou constitution invulnerable de la felicité publique (“Remedy for Everything, or the Invulnerable Constitution of Public Happiness”), first published in 1793.

[2] See my translation of Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Truthful Report on the Last Chances to Save Capitalism in Italy (Colossal Books, 2014).

[3] See Debord’s letters to Sanguinetti dated 21 April 1978 and 29 August 1978, published in Editions Champ Libre Correspondance, Vol. II (Paris, 1981), pp. 97-100 and p. 118, and in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol. 5, Janvier 1973 – Décember 1978 (Librarier Arthème Fayard, 2005), pp, 455-459 and p. 473. Sanguinetti’s responses of 1 June 1978 and 15 August 1978 are included in Editions Champ Libre Correspondance, Vol. II, pp. 100-117. Moro was found dead on 9 May 1978, almost two months after he had been abducted.

[4] In 1989, Sanguinetti and Editions Allia published a French translation of this work under the title Du Prince et des Lettres. Email to me dated 2 October 2012.

[5] Guy Debord, Commentaires sur la société du spectacle, 1988, suivi de Préface à la quatrième édition italienne de La Société du Spectacle, 1979 (Gallimard, 1992), p. 142.

[6] But even Censor/Sanguinetti had not been the first, a distinction that can only be claimed by the Italian section of the Situationist International, which published Il Reichstag Brucia? (“Is the Reichstag Burning?”) on 19 December 1969.

[7] To read the letters exchanged between Lebovici and Labrugère & Rouyau, see Editions Champ Libre Correspondance, Vol. II, pp. 69-72.

[8] It appears that this decision to break off relations was reached in October 1978. Cf. Debord’s letter to Paolo Salvadori dated 12 November 1978, published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5, pp. 482-485: “Thus I have telegraphed [Gianfranco], without explanation, that our meeting in Geneva has been canceled. As you know, I have shown him extraordinary patience on the personal level because he merits it for several reasons. And though I have interrupted all relations on that level for nearly three years, I would still like to think that there still remains a chance for him to manifest his talents in an autonomous manner in the general activity of ‘our party.’ The question can no longer be posed.” The reason for this decision concerned Sanguinetti’s manuscript, not his behavior or the people with whom he was associating: “Although there are several good pages and a generally acceptable intention, and certainly courage (if it is to be published soon in Italy), it is necessary to say that this book, when considered as a whole, constitutes an irreparable and monstrous disaster. Everything is lacking: in the strategy of the discourse, in the ‘literary’ construction of the text as a whole, in its very style, which is at once maladroit and pretentious in the extreme, in the figure that the author puts forth everywhere and that succeeds in being vividly antipathetic and, at the same time, completely ridiculous. To summarize the fundamental error of the author, one can say that he has, so as to surpass ‘Censor,’ stupidly reprised this glorious personality, with all of his idiosyncratic expressions, but in a debased manner because he has passed over to the side of the proletarians, with the result that the discourse takes on an aspect that evokes the beards of the old, autodidactic anarchists of the end of the 19th century. And to summarize the error of the man, it is necessary to say that the most lamentable sides of his personality, which once a month or so express themselves by inept comportment in a restaurant, are spread about without limits in the language of historical action.”

[9] This letter was published in Jean-François Martos, Correspondance avec Guy Debord (Le fin mot de l’histoire, 1998), a book that was removed from circulation the following year after a successful claim of copyright infringement was lodged against it by Librairie Arthème Fayard and Alice Becker-Ho aka “Alice Debord.”

[10] A reference to the letters Debord sent Sanguinetti on 21 April 1978 and 29 August 1978. Cavalcanti was the pseudonym that Debord had used in this correspondence.

[11] Letter from Debord to Martos dated 29 August 1981 and published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 6: Janvier 1973-Décembre 1978 (Librairie Arthème Fayard, 2005), pp. 178-180.

[12] Gianfranco Sanguinetti, On Terrorism and the State: The theory and practice of terrorism divulged for the first time (London: B.M. Chronos, 1982), pp. 6-13.

[13] None of these copies are housed in Italy. The only library in Italy that has a copy of the book is the Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna Center, which has a copy of the English translation.

[14] This translation was published in 1981 by Edition Nautilus, a publishing house that, according to Martos’ letter of 4 April 1981, was to be distrusted because “their translations are bad, without mention of origin, their catalogue contains anything and everything and, bizarrely, though they constitute a certain pole of attraction in Germany, they never seem to have enemies among the Teutonic police. . . . And, without affirming anything with certainty, one could relate their fetishism of organization to the quasi-cop [quasi-flicarole] letter that they sent to Michel Prigent.”

[15] This was before I translated all these texts from scratch.

[16] Cf. Daniele Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies: Operation GLADIO and Terrorism in Western Europe (Routledge, 2005).

[17] Cf. interview with Webster Tarpley, Press TV, 13 October 2011: “[The] Situationist International was cooked up by NATO and the CIA back in the 1950s and 60s to overthrow General de Gaulle of France who was the target at that time.”

[18] This is an operation “in which carefully selected and falsified documents and other materials are deliberately revealed by an insider who pretends to be a fugitive rebelling against the excesses of some oppressive or dangerous government agency. But the revelations turn out to have been prepared with a view to shaping the public consciousness in a way which is advantageous to the intelligence agency involved. At the same time, gullible young people can be duped into supporting a personality cult of the leaker, more commonly referred to as a ‘whistleblower.’ A further variation on the theme can be the attempt of the sponsoring intelligence agency to introduce their chosen conduit, now posing as a defector, into the intelligence apparatus of a targeted foreign government. In this case, the leaker or whistleblower attains the status of a triple agent.” Webster Tarpley, “How to identify a limited CIA hangout op?” Press TV, 18 June 2013. The reactionary nature of this obscurantist analysis can be seen in the fact that, for Tarpley, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are not genuine whistle-blowers, but “triple agents.”

[19] This excellent blog also hosts like-minded essays by Max Kolskegg (“9/11 in Context: Plans and Counterplans” and “9/11: A Desperate Provocation by US Capitalism”) and an interview with Tod Fletcher (“9/11 in Context: The Strategy of Tension Gone Global”).

[20] Dr. Nafeez Ahmed, “Why Was a Sunday Times Report on U.S. Government Ties to Al Qaeda Chief Spiked?” Ceasefire, 20 May 2013.

[21] Other players were in power during both the early 1970s and 2001 include Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield. Cf. Kevin Ryan, Nineteen 9/11 Suspects (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2013).

Bill Brown
Brooklyn, NY
February 2014