The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976










Verina Gfader:You were involved in establishing

journals such as Quaderni rossi, Classe operaia,

and Contropiano. In what way were the various

formats of distribution – of distributing theories

and workers’ actions – an integral part of shaping

people’s actions and engagement? And in what

way did these journals contribute to your thinking

about radical self-organized forms of resistance?

Antonio Negri: In Italy we experienced the

so-called magazines period, which started within

the far left wing after the Twentieth Congress of

the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and

the Hungarian uprising in 1956. In those years,

the most frequently used media for distributing

theories and ideas were newspapers and

magazines. Until the mid-’60s our movement

was a magazine movement, then we used leaflets

as well, which were distributed in factories.

VG: So printed matter became a channel for

distributing theoretical ideas?

AN:Yes, for the left wing of the Communist Party,

magazines turned into theoretical magazines –

voicing a strong criticism toward the Communist

Party. From a cultural point of view, this period was

very important and was characterized by the

works of authors like Franco Fortini and Roberto

Guiducci. Pier Paolo Pasolini also took part in this

magazine movement until the mid-’60s.

VG:Was the magazine the key trigger?

AN: The magazine became a point of reference

where the different ways of action and intervention

were analyzed. In this regard, the group

surrounding Quaderni rossi, which began to

meet in 1958, played a central role. The first issue

was published in 1961. The group was directed

and kept together by Raniero Panzieri, who had

Antonio Negri interviewed

by Verina Gfader

Translated by

Valentina Milan

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


Page 200:

Quaderni rossi, no. 2 (1962).

Featured in Pier Vittorio

Aureli, The Project of

Autonomy: Politics and

Architecture within and

against Capitalism (New

York: Princeton Architectural

Press and the Buell Center,

2008), n.p. (c) Princeton

Architectural Press and the

Buell Center.

Classe operaia, no. 1 (1964).

Featured in Aureli, The

Project of Autonomy, n.p.

(c) Princeton Architectural

Press and the Buell Center.

Covers of course booklets

prepared at the IUAV ( Istituto

Universitario di Architettura

di Venezia) and published

by Cluva, 1965. Featured in

Aureli, The Project of

Autonomy, n.p. (c) Princeton

Architectural Press and the

Buell Center.

previously been the director of Mondo operaio,

the official magazine of the Italian Socialist Party.

Panzieri belonged to the pro-communist left wing

within the Italian Socialist Party.

After the Godesberg Program conference in 1959,

a group of young people from the left wing of the

Turin Socialist Party and from the youthcommunist

section of the University of Rome converged on a

common project: an inquiry into workers and their

conditions in the factory. Our focus on modes of

production and the workday was an attempt to

rewrite the first volume of Marx’s Capital in a way

that was specific to the new working conditions

that were typical of big industry.

VG:Were Quaderni rossi and other early journals

propositions or theoretical developments? Or were

they both?

AN: They were definitely both. The most important

thing was inquiry – but remember that in Italy in this

period sociology was not yet an academic subject.

Sociology had been excluded from the university

curriculum by Italian idealists like Giovanni Gentile

and Benedetto Croce. The only sociology chair in

the country was held by Cesare Alfieri in Florence.

With Quaderni rossi came the project of

reinventing sociology; some of those who were

contributing to it, like Franco Momigliano and

Alessandro Pizzorno, would later become

important Italian sociologists. In this regard,

Quaderni rossi can be compared to the Frankfurt

School in Germany.

VG:How did Florence emerge as the center of

the network between thinkers, workers, and


AN: In those years the network of university

political centers was fundamental. At the end of

The Real Radical?


the war, the Italian industrial area was constituted

by the so-called triangle of Genoa, with iron and

steel, Turin and its automobile industry, and Milan

with its mechanical engineering companies. At the

same time, Venice and Marghera were developing

into the most important centers for the Italian

chemical industry. We also have to take into

consideration the issue of internal migration, a

huge mass of people moving from the south to

the north of Italy. It was in response to these

developments that the workers’ movement

established itself. Between 30 and 40 percent

of the workers’ movement was extremely well

organized – the Italian Communist Party was the

biggest in the communist West and was able to

express itself both from a political and an

intellectual point of view.

I’ve always found it very difficult to explain the

difference between, for example, Socialisme ou

Barbarie in France and Quaderni rossi in Italy with

respect to the workers’ movement. In France,

these were mainly minority intellectual movements

connected with publishing houses –most of their

exponents would become authors, in the true

sense of the word. In Italy, the situation was

completely different because a tension with the

party was immediately visible. Quaderni rossi was

soon considered a movement. And the movement

was without a doubt made up of intellectuals:

Panzieri was an editor for Einaudi, and from 1963

I was a university professor. But at the same time

we were militants – at 5:00 a.m. we’d go to the

factories and help workers write leaflets.

VG: So theory, as such, strongly related to the

practice of the workers in the factories.

AN:Yes – but remember it was a deeply rooted

tradition of the Communist Party to take the

intellectuals to thefactories.We simplycarried it on.

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


VG: What status did text and theory have in relation

to forming groups and their alliances?

AN: A major element in this context was the

translation of Marx’s Grundrisse. The volume was

published in Italian for the first time I believe in 1967,

but Enzo Grillo, a comrade involved with Quaderni

rossi, started to translate the text ten years earlier

and Renato Solmi, the translator of Walter

Benjamin and Theodor Adorno for Einaudi,

translated a few passages from Grundrisse for

Quaderni rossi – in particular the chapter about

the role of the machine.

Look at the Italian editions and at the relationship

with Germany, for example. From a cultural point

of view, this long-standing connection was very

strong. In my heyday it was difficult to become a

philosophy professor without speaking any

German – I myself translated Hegel when I was

young. An opening was created toward the Anglo-

Saxon cultural universe, even though a bit later and

more generally, we were perfectly conscious of

what was occurring outside and this is something

of great importance, because even if we were a

closed community, our level of conceptualization,

of thought’s elaboration, was extremely high.

Finally, as for our contacts, they were limited, but

we still had some outside of Italy, and these

became greater after 1968 in Europe.

With the publication of Empire with Michael Hardt

in 2000 all of the operaismo authors’ materials

started to be translated and so it has become a

subject matter for study. But until then everything

had been confined to Italy. You have to take into

account that the generation responsible for this

process was demonized from the mid-’70s onward

and then spent the ’80s in prison.

VG: Although the work of Archizoom and Arte

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Povera, and the important role that magazines

like Casabella played in their development, runs

parallel with your activities, why do you seldom

comment on them?

AN: Because there was so little dialogue between

us.The only interesting thingabout theavant-garde

for me was the opportunity it offered to make

some money –we were asking for paintings from

artists in order to sell them to fund our activities.

For example, when I was a militant for Potere

operaio,Mario Schifano, Roberto Matta, and René

Burri were providing us with paintings to sell.

VG:Was there any dialogue with architectural

groups like Archizoom who proposed a

theoretical –

TN: No. There was a group here in Veneto called

Gruppo Enne whose members were Manfredo

Massironi, Ennio Chiggio, and Toni Costa. They

were doing Optical art and Massironi was

responsible for the visual makeup of the magazine

Classe operaia between 1964 and 1966/67.

Massironi was a good friend of Mario Merz, so

between Arte Povera and these Optical artists a

lively debate broke out, eventually leading to a

break because the Optical artists thought that Arte

Povera was strongly connected with tradition, with

Lucio Fontana and Burri, etcetera, while Massironi

et al were inquiring into the dynamics of machines.

Many exponents of this movement would later

become psychologists of perception, and others

would become designers. Here you can find a

strong connection with Archizoom and some other

design and architectural groups. For example,

Chiggio became the president of the designer’s

association in Milan at the start of the 1970s.

John Cage frequently visited due to his relationship

with the pianist and composer Teresa Rampazzi, a

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976



Contropiano, no. 2 (1971).

Featured in Aureli, The

Project of Autonomy, n.p.

(c) Princeton Architectural

Press and the Buell Center.

The Real Radical?


comrade in our groups. There was also a musical

modernism developing: Bruno Maderna and

Luciano Berio were more or less originally from

Veneto. So although we did not deal directly in

art, we were living in art. As a result, the protests

against the Biennale in 1968 were huge.

VG: Didn’t you boycott it?

TN:Yes, in an extremely tough way, and it was

really interesting because many of the university

departments took part in it. Architecture students

had begun a self-management process supported

by professors in 1964/65, and in 1967 an

“occupation” took place, lasting twelve months.

Following this occupation by the school of

architecture, the other academies started coming

together. Then Marghera workers arrived as well,

because in those years workers from Marghera

would hold their assemblies during the lockouts

inside the school of architecture.

VG: But wasn’t there a one-year strike at the Venice

academy as well?

AN: It was prompted by the Istituto Universitario

di Architettura di Venezia, but it was not a strike; it

was an occupation mainly with the support of the

professors. The rector at that time was Giuseppe

Samonà and then there was Franco Albini, a

famous furniture designer, the architect Ignazio

Gardella, and a number of town planners who all

took part.

These different developments all ran more or less

parallel with each other, crossing over at certain

points. These movements developing on

horizontal axes were living in the same theoretical

environment rather than creating a precise,

determined theory, because the movements’

thoughts tended to be negative and critical –

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


endlessly creating new spaces rather than

filling them.

Aside from this, some militants were indeed doing

art and cinema here in Venice. For instance, there

was the guy who shoots pornographic films –

what’s his name?

VG: Tinto Brass?

AN: Tinto Brass! He made a marvelous film at

the time shot at the Lido in Venice, Chi lavora

è perduto. But Italy lacked a cinema preparing

for and living 1968; there was no Godard.

VG: No Godard?

AN: No, not at all. Well, there was Pasolini, but he

was quite a different thing.

VG: In what ways? How do you see Pasolini’s

place within that, and in relation to your work at

that time?

AN: There was a violent break with Pasolini.

Alberto Asor Rosa wrote the book Scrittori e

popolo in 1965, and he attacked the whole of

realism, all that was called Italian communist

realism; he described Pasolini as a middle-class

writer who succeeded Giovanni Pascoli. So, a very

violent break occurred between the operaisti and

Pasolini and the reason is apparent: according to

the operaisti the subject of history was the

productive working class; according to Pasolini,

on the contrary, history belonged to the

farmworkers, the simple, common people, the

immigrant with strong muscles – there is nothing to

do here, the difference between these two

positions concerned the way of conceiving things

and therefore the gap was too big to be filled.

Besides, in 1968 Pasolini wrote a famous poem

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The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


The Real Radical?


The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


The Real Radical?


The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


The Real Radical?


against the students who had taken part in the

struggles at Valle Giulia, which had represented

a very powerful action.

The break was total and as far as I am concerned

it is still valid today. Even though I believe that

Pasolini’s work has effectively documented a great

passage in Italian history, it is still too nostalgic

and passive.

VG: In Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age

of Empire, you mention the White Overalls with

reference to Italian social centers – including

bookstores, radio stations, and lectures – as

being essentially political throughout the 1970s.

Again thinking more broadly, there was also the

flourishing club scene and immersive sound

environments and meeting places built around

architectural experiments from 1968 to 1976.

With the Florentine avant-garde architectural

movement Gruppo 9999, who designed the club

Space Electronic, an alternative social space was

created – generating a series of small communities

in communal spaces, even going so far as to

include school activities. Could this possibly be

seen as an alternative form of protest or resistance

on the basis of the inclusion of workers, the youth,

the people?

AN: The social centers in Italy have very different

histories. They were founded in the 1970s as what

were called “proletarian youth centers.” They

began by organizing these big parties like, for

example, the one at Parco Lambro in Milan, which

was particularly important. At the same time, the

first independent radios were established: Radio

Alice in Bologna, Radio Sherwood in Padua, Radio

Blackout in Milan, Radio Onda Rossa in Rome.

This period was undoubtedly very strange. For

example, in Milan, where I was living in the 1970s,

there was a social center in the Ticinese

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


Pages 210– 15:

A crowd gathered for a

demonstration. Photo by

Marion Scemama.

Protesters brandishing a

Potere Operaio banner.

Potere operaio protesters

in action, November 18, 1972.

Photo by Massa Carrara.

Featured in Sylvère Lotringer

and Christian Marazzi,

eds., Autonomia: Post-

Political Politics (New York:

Semiotext(e), 1980).

(c) Semiotext(e).

neighborhood. The people involved in that

undertook an actual territorial occupation from

1974 until 1977/78. Today this area is called movida

due to it being a center for nightlife, but at that time

it had nothing to do with movida because it took its

origins from proletarians. Social centers were

spaces for workers with very cheap restaurants.

Police could not enter in these areas.

VG:Was there a barricade?

AN: No, if a police car went in, it was stopped and it

was burned. A fundamental feature to bear in mind

is that 1968 in Italy was not the same as in Germany

or in France: in Italy it lasted ten years.

VG: So it’s more like an ongoing ten-year event.

AN:Yes, ten years during which every kind of event

happened, especially in the big cities – Rome,

Milan, in Veneto, too. Veneto played an important

role with respect to the working class, even if

Veneto was not a workers’ region like Turin. In

Rome the situation was similar. But Milan was

undoubtedly the place where everything

happened. In Rome things happen in a folkloristic

way, whereas in Milan things happen in a real way.

During this period, industry began its

transformation as automation processes were

implemented and work began to move from the

factory into the city. The publishing industry, for

instance, would no longer be a tower containing

thousands of workers. The development of Milan

as a center for design happened when designers

moved outside of the large companies into the

city to develop their own practices. Milan became

a productive metropolis and we experienced

the passage from the “mass worker” through

the “social worker” to the “cognitive worker.”

Architecture departments started to occupy a

The Real Radical?


central place from a political point of view – look

at the Politecnico in Milan.

VG: In terms of architecture, was the design of the

factories – and theorganization of space generally –

taken as an important factor at the time?

AN:Definitely. In particular, we were talking about

the traffic in the city. When I lived here in Venice in

the mid-’60s there was a focus in the architecture

school on standardization and the design of

prefabricated proletarian houses for the working

class. At the end of the decade the focus switched

from the house to the city structure and the

creation of spaces to freely move around and meet

in. These spaces formed a continuum between

the industrial outskirts and the city center.

VG: Looking at these various so-called radical

movements and practices across art, design, and

architecture, do you even see true radicality as

being heightened in this period? Or do you feel that

Arte Povera and Archizoom and the like were too

orthodox to be true radicals?

AN:We should try to understand what true

radicality is. In Italy, radicality was the Brigate

Rosse, and they certainly had very little in common

with Arte Povera. There are, let’s say, different

kinds of radicality. Arte Povera, which was a

very important phenomenon, was strictly

connected to a negative and ironical vision of

reality, becoming poetic precisely because of

this dimension. But Arte Povera was not reality.

From this point of view, I prefer the Russian avantgarde

of the 1920s, which directly intervened in

everyday reality.

I’m now trying to reconstruct the ten years after

1968 in Italy that we spoke of earlier, which is

difficult because my archive disappeared when

The Italian Avant-Garde,1968–1976


The Real Radical?


I was imprisoned – one of the reasons why I agreed

to give this interview is that it helps me remember.