Wolfe, Loneliness, and Italy in the 70sPosted: May 29, 2013
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), in God’s Lonely Man (undated as an essay):
“The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, peculiar to myself and to a few other solitary men, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence. When we examine the moments, acts, and statements of all kinds of people—not only the grief and ecstasy of the greatest poets, but also the huge unhappiness of the average soul…we find, I think, that they are all suffering from the same thing. The final cause of their complaint is loneliness.”
Guerriglia e guerra rivoluzionaria in Italia [Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy]
by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rizzoli (Milan), 179 pp., 5,500 Lire
II seme religioso della rivolta [The Religious Seed of Revolt]
by Sabino S. Acquaviva
Rusconi (Milan), 151 pp., 3,000 Lire
Given the pervasiveness of such terrorism in this most civilized of countries, one welcomes the efforts of Sabino S. Acquaviva, sociologist at the University of Padua and Visiting Fellow at All Souls, Oxford, to cut beneath the surface and to try to reach its underlying causes. He has undertaken to explain the ideology of the radical left in his Guerrilla Warfare and Revolutionary War in Italy and to trace its social psychology in The Religious Seed of Revolt. The two books overlap and in a sense have their unnamed subject in Toni Negri himself, one of those “clamorous cases of people,” as Acquaviva puts it, “who began with a militant commitment to Catholic Action only to end up, in the space of a few years and via complex and troublesome intellectual odysseys, as militants or theoreticians in armed revolutionary groups.”
1. Acquaviva claims that one element of continuity between the Catholic ideology these activists abandoned and the revolutionary one they embraced is found in their strong sense of moralism. I recall that some time ago a young revolutionary who still claimed to believe in God told me:
“Some big politician wanted that highway built [near Padua], and it cost 1.5 trillion lire that could have been used for cardiac or dialysis centers which we still don’t have…. But the highway was worth more votes than a hospital or cardiac center, and therefore someone who could have been saved is dying because that road was built. Now who is the worse killer? I who shoot that politician and maybe prevent his crime from being repeated, or that politician who kills every day?”
2. Acquaviva finds a second element contributing to Autonomia in the crisis of identity that Italian Marxism has suffered in its long march from postwar Stalinism to present-day revisionism. Especially since 1973, when the PCI came out for the historic compromise with the Christian Democrats, many Italians have come to see the Party not as an adversary of capitalist society so much as a component of it, a moderate force for reforming the work ethic in Italy rather than a revolutionary movement to abolish it. For the Autonomists, the PCI hardly seems the place to enact the end of alienation that they take to be the promise of Marxism. For them, only the “refusal of work,” that is, absolute opposition to salaried labor, is true to the revolutionary spirit of Marx.
3. Here enters the third element, the counterculture of personal liberation and self-fulfillment. Before it is a political movement, Acquaviva notes, Autonomia is a will to enjoy life rather than to have to earn it, a radical rejection of any society which, instead of enriching its citizens, dominates and represses them with an ethical system that insists that value comes through uncreative work. For the Autonomists the key word (it is Negri’s) has become autovalorizzazione, which can be translated as falling somewhere between self-fulfillment and self-assertion. In this concept the personal and the political meet, and more often than not Dylan pipes the tune and Marx dances.