Monday, June 24, 2013

‘What is this coup d’état? I know’

Google Reader is shutting down in six days and I still haven’t chosen a replacement. I am frustrated that this is happening. I value my regular readers a great deal, and more than half of my subscribes are users of Google’s service, which is by far the most popular RSS system around, so this blog may well suffer a fairly precipitous drop in readership as of next week. I also rely on Google Reader to keep an eye on my favourite writers and blogs. There are alternatives out there, but the disappearance of the dominant product may very well accelerate the move away from subscription and towards relying on social media to compile one’s daily reading list.

Social media are very good at this. You could go by your contacts’ recommendations and never run out of interesting and valuable things to read. But social media are also biased. Not surprisingly, they favour the socially connected. I shouldn’t complain, I am one of those people. But the work of keeping up with the writings and writers that are less attuned to social media is valuable, and it’s about to get a little bit harder.

Promoting this work, and countering those biases, is also important. I was surprised to discover last week that a friend who has recently returned from the UK wasn’t familiar with Scott Hamilton or his blog. This we could both easily attribute to the fact that Scott isn’t on Twitter. And sure, it’s more Twitter’s loss than Scott’s, but it means that some people are missing out on one of the country’s very best writers, all because of a shift in the prevailing habits of media consumption.

It used to be that blogging itself was considered ‘social media’, and attracted similar complaints. So I realise that my argument – to the extent that I have one – proceeds on shaky grounds. But we talked, my friend and I, about the role of writers in the public conversation, as well as the responsibility of media (not just the mainstream kind) to promote and facilitate this role. Whenever I am involved in that sort of discussion, I automatically think of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Piero Ottone took over as editor of Il Corriere della Sera, in early 1972. Closely tied to the Northern industrial bourgeoisie, Il Corriere was then, as it is now, Italy’s best-selling daily newspaper. Ottone’s intention may initially have been to make it only slightly less conservative, as he did most notably by firing reactionary columnist Indro Montanelli. (Montanelli went on to fund his own newspaper, which he unassumingly called The Newspaper.) But then Pasolini wrote Ottone a letter, tearing into him for his editorial stance on the Vietnam war. This letter included the following line: ‘today’s exploited and oppressed will soon wipe out you and your freedoms’. So naturally Ottone gave Pasolini a job.

It was a strange convergence. Pasolini wasn’t a young writer seeking a break, but a mature artist at the peak of his powers. He was also a communist. Whatever expectation there might have been that in order to publish on this prestigious conservative forum he would compromise on his ideas or moderate his rhetoric, it would soon be shattered. Ottone, for his part, published everything. The result were the fifteen columns that Pasolini wrote for Il Corriere between 1973 and 1975 – the year of his murder – and later collected as Scritti corsari (‘pirate papers’).

One of these columns in particular has become linked to an entire period of Italian history. It’s known simply as Io so, ‘I know’. It is a reflection on the work of the intellectual, but also a devastating attack on our institutions – including the press – and on the nation's subservient relationship to the United States.

When I was invited to write for Overland, I thought that translating this text – which is to say, recovering it – would be a useful start. But what we need to recover just as urgently is the kind of contract with the reader that it presupposes. You don’t need to know anything about the subject of the column: about what came to be called ‘the strategy of tension’, about the decade-long bloodbath that culminated in the Bologna train station massacre. Just read it. And then think not of what writers but of what writing, not of what publishers but of what publishing would make this kind of work possible today. Where would you find it, under which conditions, in what kind of mainstream? Or if you think it’s here already, how can we best value it and support it.

Earlier this month some people got together on Twitter, under the guidance of @Tw_letteratura, and read the Scritti corsari together. This post is also a belated contribution to the hashtag #Corsari.

‘What is this coup d’état? I know’ - by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

(Original Italian text. The translation is mine, as originally published at Overland.)

I know.

I know the names of those responsible for what has been called a ‘coup d’état’ (but is in reality a series of ‘coups’ instituted for the preservation of power).

I know the names of those responsible for the Milan massacre of 12 December 1969.

I know the names of those responsible for the Brescia and Bologna massacres of the early months of 1974.

I know the names of the ‘leadership’ that manipulated both the old fascists who devised the ‘coups’, and the neo-fascists who materially executed the early massacres, as well as the ‘unknown’ perpetrators of the most recent massacres.

I know the name of the people who managed the two different, in fact opposite stages of the tension: the first, anticommunist stage (Milan 1969) and the second, antifascist stage (Brescia and Bologna 1974).

I know the names of the powerful figures who, with the help of the CIA (and in a secondary role of the Greek Colonels and of the Mafia) first created an anti-communist crusade, which failed miserably, in order to plug the dam of ‘68, and subsequently, still with the aid and the inspiration of the CIA, took on a new antifascist identity in order to remedy the disaster of the ‘referendum’.

I know the names of those who, in between Holy Masses, provided and ensured political protection to the old generals (in order to maintain, as a backup, the organization for a possible coup d’état), young neofascists, or rather neonazis (in order to create a concrete anti-communist tension) and finally common criminals, who until now have been nameless and possibly shall be forever (in order to create the following anti-fascist tension). I know the names of the sober and important people who lurk behind comical characters such as that general of the forest rangers who worked, farcically, at Città Ducale (while the Italian woods burned), or behind grey characters with a purely organisational role such as general Miceli.

I know the names of the sober and important people who lurk behind the tragic youths who chose the suicidal fascist atrocities or the common criminals, Sicilian and otherwise, who offered their services as killers and assassins.

I know all of these names and I know all of the facts (attempts against the institutions and massacres) for which they have been responsible.

I know. But I don’t have any evidence. I don’t even have clues.

I know because I’m an intellectual, a writer who tries to follow everything that happens, to imagine everything that is unknown or unspoken; who connects facts that may seem disparate, that puts together the disorganised and fragmentary pieces of an entire coherent political picture, who restores logic where arbitrariness, folly and mystery seem to rule.

This is all part of my craft and of the instinct of my craft. I believe it is unlikely that my ‘novel in progress’ may be wrong, that is to say that it may be disconnected from reality, and that its references to real persons and facts may be inaccurate. Furthermore I believe that many other intellectuals and novelists know what I know as an intellectual and novelist. Because restoring the truth of what has happened in Italy after 1968 is not that difficult.

This truth – we feel it with absolute precision – lies behind a great number of texts, including those written by journalists and politicians: that is to say not products of imagination or fiction, as mine must be by its own nature. The latest example: it is clear that truth was barging in, with all of its names, behind the Corriere della Sera editorial of 1 November 1974.

Journalists and politicians probably have some evidence, or at least some clues.

Now the problem is this: journalists and politicians, whilst having perhaps some evidence and certainly some clues, are not naming names.

Who is it up to, then, to name those names? Clearly to those who not only have the courage required, but also have not had to make compromises with power, and also do not have, by definition, anything to lose: that is to say, intellectuals.

An intellectual therefore could easily name those names in public: but he neither has the evidence nor the clues.

Power, and the world that, even though it does not belong to power, holds concrete relationships with power, has excluded free intellectuals – because of its inherent nature – from the possibility of gathering evidence and clues.

It could be objected to me that I, for example, as an intellectual and maker of stories, could enter that explicitly political world (of power or close to power), make compromises with it, and thus gain to the right to obtain, in some likelihood, evidence and clues.

But to this objection I would respond that this is not possible, precisely because it is the loathing to enter into such a political world that identifies my potential intellectual power to speak the truth: that is to say, to name names.

The intellectual courage to speak the truth and the practice of politics are incompatible in Italy.

To the intellectual – who is profoundly and viscerally despised by the entire Italian bourgeoisie – we give a falsely lofty and noble mandate, which is actually servile: that of debating moral and ideological problems.

If he is given this mandate, the intellectual is regarded as a traitor to his role: and the cries go out – ‘betrayal of the clerics’ – which is an alibi and a justification for the politicians and servants of power.

But there isn’t just power: there is also an opposition to power. In Italy this opposition is so large and so strong that it is a power in itself: I am referring naturally to the Italian Communist Party.

It is certain that at this moment the presence of a great opposition party such as the Italian Communist Party is the salvation of Italy and of its wretched democratic institutions.

The Italian Communist Party is a clean country in a dirty country, a honest country in a dishonest country, an intelligent country in a foolish country, an educated country in an ignorant country, a humanistic country in a consumerist country. In the last few years, between the Italian Communist Party – understood in a genuinely unitary sense as a compact ‘whole’ of leaders, base and voters – and the rest of Italy, a chasm has opened up: so that the Italian Communist Party has become a ‘country apart’, an island. And it is precisely for this reason that nowadays it can have its closest relationship ever with the corrupt, inept, degraded real power: but it is merely a diplomatic relationship, as if between two different nations. As a matter of fact their respective morals, understood as concrete wholes, are incompatible. It is on this basis that it is possible to put forward that realistic ‘compromise’ that might save Italy from a complete collapse: however this ‘compromise’ would be really an ‘alliance’ between two neighbouring states, or between two states that are locked one inside the other.

But all the positive things that I have said about the Communist Party also constitute its relatively negative aspects.

The split of the country into two countries, one sinking up to its neck in degradation and degeneration, the other intact and not compromised, cannot be a reason for peace and constructiveness.

Moreover, if it is understood as I have outlined it here, I think objectively, as a country within a country, the opposition identifies with another power, which remains a power.

Consequently the politicians of such an opposition cannot but behave themselves as men of power.

In this particular instance that currently concerns us so dramatically, they also gave to the intellectual a mandate that they themselves established. And, if the intellectual fails to fulfil this mandate – which is purely moral and ideological – he becomes, to everyone’s great delight, a traitor.

Now, why do the politicians from the opposition, if they have – as they probably do – evidence or at least clues, not name the names of the real culprits, that is to say the political culprits, of the comical coups and the horrendous massacres of these past years? The answer is very simple: they do not name them to the extent that they make a distinction – rejected by the intellectual – between political truth and political practice. Therefore, naturally, they do not reveal evidence and clues to the intellectual who is not an official: they would not dream of it, as is in any case perfectly normal, given the objective state of affairs.

The intellectual must continue to stick to the duty that has been assigned to him, and iterate his codified mode of intervention.

I know very well that this is not the time – at this particular moment of Italian history – to publicly present a motion of no-confidence against the nation’s entire political class. It would be neither diplomatic nor timely. But these are categories of politics, not of political truth: which is what the powerless intellectual – whenever and to the extent that he can – is compelled to serve.

Well then, precisely because I cannot name the names of those responsible for the attempted coups and the massacres (but not in lieu of doing that), I cannot but level my weak and ideal accusation against the entire Italian political class.

And I act because I believe in politics, I believe in the ‘formal’ principles of democracy, I believe in Parliament and I believe in political parties. All this naturally through my particular viewpoint, which is that of a communist.

I am ready to withdraw my motion of no-confidence (in fact I would like nothing better) as soon as a politician – not out of political calculation, that is to say not when the time has come to do it, but rather to create the conditions for that time to come – will decide to name the people responsible for the coups and the massacres, for which he well knows, as I do, that he must have some evidence, or at least some clues.

In all likelihood – if the American power will allow it – perhaps making the ‘diplomatic’ decision to grant another democracy the prerogative that the American democracy granted itself concerning Nixon – these names sooner or later will be named. But those who will do the naming will be people who shared power with them, as minor culprits against major culprits (and they may not turn out to be, as in America’s case, to be any better). This ultimately would be the real coup d’état.